Winter time's ripe for the Strawberry Festival

This year's event in Plant City will feature nearly twice as many performers, including Gretchen Wilson and Little Richard.

Published February 23, 2007

Thanks to a cool winter free of hard frosts, Florida strawberry farmers have plenty to celebrate.

As long as their luck doesn't change by Thursday, when the 72nd Florida Strawberry Festival opens.

"The cool weather we're having helps sweeten up the berries," said festival general manager Patsy Brooks.

The event started in 1930, and except for a six-year break during World War II, has continued ever since. Last year's festival drew 550,000 visitors.

Though past festivals featured plenty of big-name music acts alongside the strawberry shortcake, this year's will feature nearly twice as many performers.

Last year there were 12 acts, most of which played two shows on a single day. This year the number of concerts remains the same, but nearly all the acts will perform only once.

The Nashville royalty playing at the festival includes Gretchen Wilson, Josh Turner, Kenny Rogers, George Jones, Clint Black, Martina McBride, Lee Greenwood, LeAnn Rimes and Randy Travis.

And Little Richard will also perform. Yes, that Little Richard, the 71-year-old R&B legend.

In an impressive sign of the festival's stature, a representative for Little Richard called to see if its organizers might be interested in bringing him to the festival, Brooks said.

Hootie and the Blowfish will be there, too.

"You can't see them anywhere else in the United States for the price," Brooks said.

Those who don't mind the nosebleed section can save even more money. The 2,600 concrete bleacher seats will be free for all of the festival's afternoon shows.

And on March 3, fair admission will be free to anyone 18 and under.

Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mmohammed @sptimes.com or 813 226-3404.


. if you go

Getting sweeter

The Florida Strawberry Festival runs March 1-11 at 2202 W Reynolds St. in Plant City. Gates open at 10 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. March 1-8 and 10:30 p.m. March 9-11. The midway remains open until midnight. Admission is $9 for ages 13 and up and $5 for ages 6-12. Children 5 and under are free with a paying adult. To save $1 per ticket, buy online at www.flstrawberryfestival.com until the start of the fair. Reserved concert tickets for headline acts range from $10 to $30. For information, call (813) 752-9194.