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    50 years of parties

    It was a big deal for a sleepy city; bait for the Northerners. The Fun 'n Sun Festival has grown along with Clearwater, and now offers almost every entertaining thing imaginable except fleeting bathtubs. This year, music takes center stage.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 17, 2003


    CLEARWATER -- Fifty years ago, a local merchants association put on a parade to thank visitors for staying in Clearwater during the winter.

    In time, other events were added. Eventually, it evolved into the Fun 'n Sun Festival.

    The event was a big deal to the small city, which used it to attract tourists in March and April.

    Officials would "adopt" a Northern city, invite its officials and honor them with banquets at the Kapok Tree restaurant.

    On spring nights, residents and visitors would dress up in their finest and head to the municipal auditorium for the Miss Clearwater pageant.

    During the day they would line Cleveland Street for a parade.

    They would watch Clearwater Bombers fast-pitch softball games.

    They would eat pancakes cooked by a civic group.

    And they would race in the bathtub regatta.

    "It was a big social thing," said Allen Edelman, 80, of Dunedin, who owned the Four Seasons Motel on Clearwater Beach in the early 1950s.

    Edelman, who sold his motel and worked for the city parks and recreation department for 32 years before retiring, calls the changes to the three-week event "mind-boggling."

    On its golden anniversary, the festival offers 40 events, a few of them major concerts.

    The fun officially began Friday with the three-day Sunsets Beach Fest at the Pier 60 Pavilion on Clearwater Beach.

    It continues Saturday with a bowling tournament, an inner tube race, the Downtown Clearwater Arts Stroll and a poetry reading.

    The city spent $34,720 to put on the festival this year, said Terry Schmidt, Clearwater Parks and Recreation Department special events producer, and that includes construction of the city float.

    Yet it still retains its small-town, Florida flavor.

    There is a fishing tournament, a tree giveaway, preschool story time, a bridge tournament, a ballroom dance, senior follies and baseball night with the Phillies.

    "The idea is to have a variety of events that appeal to people of all ages, different events taking place at different places in the city," said Schmidt, who has worked to add larger acts to the program.

    This year, he said, "our focus is on different types of music, a big diversity of music."

    There are three big concerts: Jonathan Butler and Warren Hill will play Coachman Park during the WSJT Smooth Jazz Fest on April 25-26. Eddie Money, BTO and O-Town will perform during the 5 Decades of Music concert April 27. And Hot Action Cop and Taking Back Sunday will play the 97X Ten Dollar Bill concert May 2.

    Over the years, the festival "loses some events and gains some events," said Bob Barry, Clearwater's recreation supervisor.

    New events include the American Cancer Society Bowling Tournament on Saturday at AMF Clearwater Lanes; the Downtown Clearwater Arts Stroll, also Saturday on Cleveland Street; the Boater's World Tournament of Champions King Mackerel Tournament on April 25-26 in the Gulf of Mexico; and the SunTrust Island Way Flats Fishing Classic on May 3 at the Island Way Grill.

    Barry said organizers hoped to bring back the bathtub regatta in honor of the 50th anniversary, but opted for the Fun N Float Frenzy inner tube races at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center instead.

    One thing hasn't changed: The main focus is still the parade, just as it was a half century ago. "We get 20,000 to 30,000 people," said Barry.

    -- Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com .

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