The 27th annual Seafood Festival will take place at E.G. Simmons Park in Ruskin on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7 and 8. It’s a chance for the community to get together to celebrate all that Florida and South Hillsborough has to offer.
In all likelihood, the sun will be shining down from a deep autumnal-blue sky, a sky that seems to appear only in Florida during the best months of the year. The morning may start out refreshingly cool, progressing gradually into rejuvenating warmth. There will be children laughing; adults walking around the beautiful setting of E.G. Simmons Park, eyes wide in wonder, taking in the colorful, somehow comforting extravaganza spread out before them. The air passing over the Gulf of Mexico and across the bay is clean, salty and fresh. This is a place of joy. It is like taking a vacation simply by making a short drive down 19th Street in Ruskin.
There will be children rocketing into the sky on enormous bungee cords and climbing rock walls. There will be adults, gathering, talking, laughing and enjoying the company of friends old and new. There will be live music — a fresh array of it this year, reflecting the desires of the community, an effort to bring people together. And everywhere, there will be seafood. Delicious seafood.
On Nov. 7 and 8, South Hillsborough’s largest, best-known and most-loved tradition will continue with the 27th annual Seafood Festival.
The festival has changed considerably in its nearly three-decade run. From humble beginnings scattered at what was formerly known as the Bahia Beach Resort, the event has grown exponentially, reflecting the growth of South Hillsborough. But still, somehow through the concerted efforts of the organizers at the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, it has retained its family-friendly community feel. Even leashed pets are welcome. And for many snowbirds, it is a welcome-home of sorts. For nearly everyone, it is something to look forward to.
“We always make changes and add things, but a lot of it will be the same,” said Melanie Morrison, executive director of the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce and event organizer. “Our local community knows this event, and they love it. It’s the outsiders that keep hearing about [it] and we’re hoping that those folks will come down after hearing about it. It’s a great way to showcase our community.”
On Saturday night, once the vendor booths begin to close and the children head home, the lights come on, food will still be served and adult beverages will still be on tap, with the live music continuing into the evening hours. The feel changes from a festival into a party — an intimate party where, while everyone may not know your name, they certainly could by merely asking. It can happen here.
“On Saturday night at 6 p.m., we’re having a tribute band called Fleetwood Max,” Morrison said. “They even look like Fleetwood Mac. We’ll have a stage set up that will all be lit up.”
Fleetwood Max, based in Tampa, does indeed look and sound like the legendary Fleetwood Mac, with lead singer, Sharon Epperson, also known as Stevie Nix, impressively mirroring the famous Stevie Nicks in voice, appearance and inflection (see www.fleetwoodmax.com).
“On Saturday, the hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., with the food court, the beer and the stage area open until 9, with most of the rest of the vendors closing at 5,” Morrison continued. “We’re hoping that people will either stay for the night concert or just come out for that. If you are already at the event, there’s no additional charge. If you come out for the concert, it’s just the regular $5 charge to get in.”
Morrison is excited about the entire live music lineup for this year’s event.
“We’ll have live music starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday and going until close that night,” she said. “On Sunday morning we’ll have Joe Zuniga; he’s won all kinds of awards, and we’re already hearing from his fans about the chance to see him perform. We’ll have a full lineup of great music this year. We want everyone coming together in this festival.”
The event will also include an extensive array of activities for kids, with the normal bouncy house and pony rides and Jumbo the Clown. There will also be dance performances and “Mad Science” in the Kids’ Zone. And this year will bring a rock-climbing wall and what Morrison described as an “Orbitron.”
“We’ll have all of the favorites and some new ones in the kids’ area,” she said.
The music, vendors and event are what make it a fun party, but it is the food that makes it a festival — and in this case, it is seafood, the most popular of which is deliciously fried.
“People like the food, so we have a lot of the same this year,” Morrison said. “Some people talk about the fried foods but the minute we take one away, people complain. It is the fried food that sells. But we’ve worked hard the past few years to have a healthy balance of foods; not everything will be fried.”
A group of 25 core volunteers work to organize the event, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of people. By the time the festival opens, at least 100 people will be working to ensure that it all runs smoothly. Morrison has become a seasoned professional in organizing what may seem simple but is vastly complex beneath the surface. And every year, it goes off without a hitch, leaving people looking forward to the next year to kick off the season of Florida’s most glorious weather with an ever-growing but still homespun festival just down the road.
“It is the largest event in South Hillsborough,” Morrison said.
And it’s the perfect chance to come out, to meet your neighbors old and new, and experience the best of what Florida and South Hillsborough has to offer. Go and see what paradise is truly like. You’ll find it at E.G. Simmons Park on Nov. 7 and 8.
The Seafood Festival will take place Nov. 7 and 8 at E.G. Simmons Park at 2401 19th Ave. N.W. in Ruskin. Hours are Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. with the food court, sandbar (for adult beverages) remaining open from 5 to 9 p.m. and and Fleetwood Max taking the Clam Jam Stage until 9 p.m. Hours on Sunday are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Ticket prices are $5 for adults, with children under 12 and active members of the military admitted without charge. There is a $2 per carload (not per person) county entry fee to gain access to the park. Parking is free and shuttles will be provided.
For information, visit the Seafood Festival website at www.ruskinseafoodfestival.org.