BRADENTON -- By the thousands, food lovers Saturday descended upon the annual DeSoto Heritage Festival Seafood Fest to nosh, listen to music, boogie and shop.
Blessed with perfect weather, vendors served a veritable open-air buffet featuring everything from steamed lobster to crab cakes and raw oysters, not to mention more extraneous items like ice cream, barbecue, pizza, smoothies and beer.
There were a few complaints about the first-time, $2 admission charge, but otherwise the event had been going very smoothly, said chairman Gary Kortzendorf.
He expected close to 30,000 people over its three-day run from Friday through today, he said.
The admission charge was necessary because costs had gone up, he said.
"It's basically a donation,"
said food vendor chair, Eleni Sokos, explaining that the event benefits charities.
It is one of a series of events that make up the DeSoto Heritage Festival, a celebration honoring Hernando de Soto, the Spanish conquistador who is believed to have arrived near the mouth of the Manatee River in the 1500s.
There was a full lineup of live music on two stages.
For the first time, The Downtown Bradenton Farmers' Market constituted a second venue, relocated for this week only to 12th Street West in the Village of the Arts, a few blocks south of the seafood fest site.
Two rented red trolleys carried people in a circuit between the two events, proving to be a hit with the crowd.
"It's awesome, it's the reason we came," said Stacy Collins, 36, a teacher from Bradenton, whose daughters, Katelyn, 11, and Kristyn, 8, were jumping up and down with excitement as they prepared to bound onto one of the free trollies for yet another ride.
"It's good for the Village, it's good for Main Street merchants and all of the cultural venues," said Kevin Webb, as he observed a packed trolley.
Webb rented the little trolleys from a Clearwater firm as part of his work with Realize Bradenton, a nonprofit that promotes economic development and arts and culture, he said.
The trolleys were not scheduled to run today, said Webb.
"This was just a one-time trial run, a test to show trolley ridership would be enough to justify a trolley," he said.
At the Village of the Arts, crowds besieged restaurants and food vendors.
"We ran out of food at about 1:30," said Matt Allison, 33, a co-owner of Sweets Bakehouse, 930 12th St. W. "We're doing well."
He and his co-owner, Tara Sell, had restocked, and said they would be ready for brunch this morning featuring French toast casserole, biscuits and gravy, coffee and pastries.
Sandra French, 57, a stained glass artist, however, said she had been disappointed because people "really only came here to eat" and did not buy art.
"I could panhandle more money than I made today," she said late in the afternoon Saturday.
Meanwhile, back at the seafood festival, people dug into plates burdened with food, listened to bands and enjoyed a beefed-up Kid's Zone.
In addition to bounce houses, the festival offered miniature golf and giant slides.
"It's wonderful for the kids," said Jennifer Green, 42, who was visiting from Minneapolis.
She said she had attended before, but added that this year, "We like it better because of the kids' activities."
Her daughter, Autumn Green, 5, said the giant slide "slides a lot and is slippery."
"We just wanted to come out with the family, it's a good time every year," said Jordan Biggers, 28, a roof consultant from Bradenton, who was carrying his 6-month-old daughter, Ellie.
The fest continues today from noon to 7 p.m. in an area bordered by Third Avenue West, 10th Street West and Barcarrota Boulevard.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.