Best of Bradenton area entertainment 2012

December 30, 2012 

Sure, Manatee County continued to make headlines for such Florida weirdness as human flesh eating and school teacher Facebook gaffes.

But the Bradenton area also managed to bring plenty of attention to its vibrant arts and entertainment scene.

Not a week or so went by this year without a winning show, major festival or $6.2 million project opening.

There was always something to get excited about; something that made me happy, and, yes, proud, to be a resident of Bradenton.

Another perk?

Many of these great events were free.

To celebrate, here's a month-by-month look back at the biggest and best Manatee County entertainment events of 2012.

The forever fun Manatee County Fair (Jan. 12-22): The 96th edition of the Manatee County Fair proved to be another fun affair filled with everything from live country music to livestock to midway madness. My favorite part? Enjoying the various sights, sounds and smells with the amazing woman who recently became my wife.

Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival turns 30 (Feb. 18-19): The 30th anniversary of the Cortezians' signature event was another sunny celebration along Sarasota Bay featuring an abundance of fresh seafood plus homegrown music and clog dancing.

'Voice' finalist at Village of the Arts (March 2): The Village of the Arts' monthly ArtWalk enjoyed an extra boost when blues artist Beverly McClellan, who finished in the top four as part of Christina Aguilera's team during the first season of NBC's "The Voice," played a free show at the Blues Revue office on 11th Avenue.

Tyrese headlines Rib Fest in Palmetto (April 15): He played Sgt. Robert Epps in the "Transformers" franchise and returned as Roman Pearce in "Fast Five" after originating the role in "2 Fast 2 Furious." First-name-only star Tyrese then returned to music and released "Open Invitation," which shot to the top 10 on the Billboard 200 not too long before he closed the Gulfcoast Rhythm & Ribfest at the Manatee County Fairgrounds.

Country-rock supergroup plays fund-raiser in Bradenton (May 4): Jeff Cook is cofounder, vocalist, guitarist and fiddler for Country Music Hall of Fame act Alabama. Rick Derringer, who has a home in Manatee County, is a Grammy Award-winning producer, singer, songwriter and guitar hero best known for hits such as "Hang on Sloopy" and "Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo." Marty Balin is founder and one of the lead singers of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jefferson Airplane. The three musicians became part of an exciting, unlikely supergroup at the Bradenton Municipal Auditorium to raise funds for the Palmetto-based Del Couch Music Education Foundation.

The Applebutter Express goes from Bradenton to Bonnaroo (June 7): Less than a week after playing McCabe's Irish Pub in downtown Bradenton, jam-bluegrass band The Applebutter Express, whose singer Shannon Biss graduated from Southeast High, performed at Bonnaroo. Yep, the same mega-fest in Tennessee that featured everyone from Radiohead to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Beach Boys. The Applebutter Express returned to McCabe's in July for another packed show.

Three Dog Night plays free Fourth of July show in Palmetto (July 4): Thousands of people gathered at Palmetto's Sutton Park for a free performance by Three Dog Night. The group entertained attendees of all ages with 1970s pop-rock classics like "Joy to the World," "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" and "One."

Manatee Players sizzle in summer, set for MPAC opening (Aug.-Sept.): Following the staging of a play by "Boomerang" star Robin Givens, the Manatee Players opened its 66th season with a laugh-out-loud production of the musical comedy "Legally Blonde." The award-winning community theater troupe then came back with a brilliantly emotive "Evita" featuring Dianne Dawson as Eva Peron. Meanwhile, the Players continued to raise money for their Manatee Performing Arts Center. The multi-purpose MPAC -- I'm hoping this acronym catches on -- is scheduled to be ready for the March 28 opening of "Miss Saigon."

Get Down Downtown relaunched as 'Main Street Live' (Sept. 20): The popular Old Main Street party Get Down Downtown returned in September as "Main Street Live." The Bradenton event, usually held every third Thursday, now features new music acts, new vendors from Suncoast Food Trucks and a food court with more tables in the intersection area across from the Lost Kangaroo Pub. A special edition of Main Street Live is New Year's Eve.

Bradenton Riverwalk is a huge success (Oct. 18-Dec. 21): The $6.2 million Riverwalk has become the jewel of Bradenton since opening Oct. 18. In the first three weeks alone, more than 100,000 people visited the waterfront park that includes everything from an interactive splash fountain to a skate park to a beach volleyball court. Dozens of events have already been held there including the main ones: Taste of Manatee (Nov. 3-4), ArtSlam (Nov. 10) and the inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival (Dec. 1). Like the Riverwalk itself, all three were huge successes and my personal favorite events of the year. Oh, yeah, and our French bulldog Tucker loves the doggy water fountains throughout Riverwalk.

Country stars headline debut DeSoto Music Fest (Nov. 24): The Hernando de Soto Historical Society, the Bradenton organization behind the monthlong DeSoto Heritage Festival that includes events across Manatee County every spring, added a major concert to its calendar this year with the DeSoto Music Fest on Nov. 24. Thousands paid to see country stars Gretchen Wilson, Easton Corbin, Love and Theft and Craig Campbell.

We the Kings play free 'hometown' show in Palmetto (Dec. 27): The platinum-selling pop-punk band's sixth annual Hometown Holiday Show was a freebie Wednesday at The Hall in Palmetto. We the Kings, which formed in Bradenton, sold out all its previous pay shows at the 950-capacity Manatee County venue. "We wanted to do something where we could give back," singer/guitarist Travis Clark told me.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057.

Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.

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