In Plant City, Berried In Bands

New grandstands, 23 acts greet visitors to annual Florida Strawberry Festival

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: May 23, 2018

New grandstands seat 10,000 at the Florida Strawberry Festival's main stage. (Courtesy Florida Strawberry Festival)

Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley and the Oak Ridge Boys were only a few of the entertainers who performed to sellout crowds at this year’s Florida Strawberry Festival.

The main stage opened its new $5.5 million grandstands that seat 10,000, giving concertgoers an upgrade from the old bleachers, which were torn down after the 2017 festival.

Twenty-three acts performed throughout the 11-day festival, held on 85 acres in Plant City, Fla., March 1 to 11. Organizers spent roughly $3.5 million on entertainment.

Depending on the artists, concert tickets ran between $15 and $50, said Paul Davis, president of the festival. 

“We try to keep the ticket prices low enough so that people enjoy our event,” Davis said.

To enter the festival, visitors paid $8 in advance and $10 at the gate for adults and $4 in advance or $5 at the gate for children. Kids 4 and under entered for free.

The festival started in 1930 and caters to thousands of attendees each year. Attendance for 2018 was 526,025, down roughly 14,000 visitors from 2017.

“We were a little bit down from the year before, but given all the climate and all the things that happen at outdoor venues, things went well,” Davis said. “We went through the entire event without one arrest. Anytime you have an 11-day run and no one gets hurt, that’s great.”

Although rain didn’t fall much during the festival, there was a 40 percent chance of rain one Sunday, which hurt attendance, Davis said.

He also wondered if the mass shooting at an outdoor music festval in Las Vegas last year and another in February at a Florida high school made visitors nervous.

It was the first year the festival used magnetometers at the venue’s five entrances, Davis said, noting that he staffed nearly 200 law enforcement throughout the festival's run.

Searching people’s bags and using magnetometers is the new normal — “People expect it,” Davis said.

In addition to the concerts, visitors attend for the livestock shows, rides and — of course — the strawberries.

Nearly 12,000 acres of strawberries are harvested in Plant City every winter, making it the winter strawberry capital of the world and the perfect place to host a strawberry festival, Davis said.

“One farmer around here picks about 40,000 flats (crates) of strawberries a day in the winter,” he said. 

The festival is decked out in strawberry decor and every food vendor serves a recipe made with strawberries.

“We have everything strawberry that you can possible imagine,” Davis said.

The midway boasted 87 rides. “We handle all the rides, games and the food concessions that are on the carnival midway portion,” said Charles Panacek, president of Belle City Amusements.

Each year, they have the Berry-Go-Round, a strawberry ride for younger kids.

 

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: May 23, 2018