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State of the Festival: a tradition tweaked

The Festival of States will keep old standbys like the Blues Festival and Illuminated Night Parade this year, but will shorten the schedule and emphasize bands less.

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The 80-year-old tradition of the Festival of States will remain traditional, for one more year anyway. The civic celebration, from March 30 through April 8, has a roster that includes the expected mix of day and night parades, sporting events, car shows and musical performances.

But organizers have condensed the schedule into a little more than a week instead of the two-week spread of recent years, tweaked the day parade schedule and added a "Fun Parade" for community participants such as Boy Scout troops, changes that they believe will make the festival a more attractive draw and lay groundwork for more changes next year.

This year the TradeWinds Resorts Festival Parade on April 7 will begin later, at 11 a.m., preceded by the Fun Parade at 9:30 a.m. The Champions on Parade event, a field show competition between bands held at night during festival week, has been dropped, replaced by a post-parade field show by the Second Time Arounders, a popular local band of about 500 former high school and college band members.

"It is not as it's always been," said Jim Newman, president of the Suncoasters, a group of about 300 volunteers who organize the Festival of States. "Saturday and Sunday are the key days of the festival. When people come down to see their kids in the Fun Parade, they can stay for the day parade, have lunch, and see that there are lots of other things to do, an arts and crafts festival in Straub Park, a band concert after the parade, interactive events at Spa Beach, Pier Fest."

The Suncoasters have struggled with the festival's image and format in recent years. A highlight for decades was the presence of out-of-state high school marching bands, which competed in a field show and marched in the parades. But most schools now shrink their large marching corps after the fall football season to smaller concert bands, and even then, increased travel costs and decreased budgets preclude trips. When they do travel, it is often to more glamorous venues such as Disney World in Orlando. This year, the festival was able to book only two out-of-state bands.

"We tried for years to attract out-of-state bands," Newman said. "We've come to realize that's not going to happen, unless you pay them, which we can't do."

Two years ago, the Suncoasters paid the high-energy Florida A&M band to attend, which boosted parade attendance. "They are very expensive," said executive director Lane Hosmer. "And we can't afford it."

The Festival of States budget is about $300,000 annually, funded through Suncoasters' dues, about $90,000, and sponsorships. This year the city of St. Petersburg will contribute $50,000 in cash and about $71,000 in in-kind services, which is the same amount given in 2000.

Hosmer, who has been on the job for about six months, was director of a large performing and visual arts festival in Alabama, and has discussed the possibility of redirecting the focus of Festival of States to attract greater attendance.

"I haven't been here long enough to do anything significant for this festival," he said. "We're looking to make changes next year."

"I see visual and performing arts becoming more part of it," Newman said. Talks are also under way about consolidating the night and day parades into one.

"We want to see how this year goes," Newman said. "This is the city's festival. Sometimes you ask if the city needs a festival. I think you'll see a new energy this year, a renewed interest. It is steeped in tradition. We want to weave tradition into change."

Festival highlights

A full schedule of Festival of States events will be printed closer to the dates. Some highlights:

March 30 to April 1: Sam Robinson Tampa Bay Blues Festival

April 2: SouthTrust Bank Illuminated Night Parade

April 6: Coronation Ball

April 7: Kids Fun Parade and TradeWinds Resorts Festival Parade; Tasco Extreme Sports Fest; Pier Fest

-- If you would like information about participating in the Fun Parade at 9:30 a.m. April 7, call the Suncoasters office at 898-3645.

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