Thirty-three years ago, the first Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival drew about 500 people. Its been growing ever since.
The great, ultra-fresh seafood and an excuse to revel in the atmosphere and lifestyle of one of the most colorful and historic areas of Bradenton, helped the festival grow into one of the area's most popular annual events.
Something like 25,000 people now turn out for the two-day event each year. Besides seafood from the village restaurants and vendors, visitors get a chance to view and buy the work of dozens of artists in a juried show and listen to some of the best local musicians.
This year's Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. Everything gets going at 10 a.m. and keeps going until 6 p.m.
It's loads of fun, but it's all for good cause.
"The festival is a fundraiser for F.I.S.H. (the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage)," said Jane von Hahmann, F.I.S.H. treasurer and a member of the festival committee. "The festival's full of seafood and other food, artists and entertainment. "
The mission of FISH is to preserve and promote Cortez Fishing Village, one of the last working fishing villages in Florida. Income from the early years of the festival helped FISH purchase 95 acres of environmentally sensitive wetlands near the village, von Hahmann said. That land had been platted for residential development before FISH bought it. It's now some of the last undeveloped land on Sarasota Bay.
For a look at the history and lifestyle that makes Cortez Commercial Fishing Village special, check out the documentary "Gone Fishing for Old Florida: Voices of Old Cortez," an episode of the "Diamonds Along the Highway series that airs at 8:30 p.m. tonight on WEDU.
The festival's been so successful that organizers haven't had to disturb its formula over the years. The last major change came a few years ago, when it moved to the east side of the village where there's more room. The two restaurants within Cortez Fishing Village, Cortez Kitchen and Swordfish Grill, will both be open during the festival.
Traffic and parking are always a challenge, but off-site parking with shuttle service is available.
The food and art will be constant through the two days of the festival, but the music will keep changing as some the area's best and favorite acts take the stage.
Here' the music lineup:
10-10:20 a.m,: Shanty Singers
12:30-2 p.m.: Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones
2:30-4 p.m.: Eric von Hahmann
4:30-6 p.m,: Razing Cane
10:30-noon: Soupy Davis and his Band
12:30-2 p.m.: Eric von Hahmann
2:30- 4 p.m.: Soul R Coaster
4:30- 6 p.m.: Shotgun Justice
Details: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 15-16, Cortez Fishing Village, 4415 119th St. W., Bradenton. Tickets: $3 adults; children ages 12 and younger free. Off-site parking available at G.T. Bray Park overflow parking at 5502 33rd Ave. Drive W., Bradenton, or Coquina Beach with shuttle bus to Cortez ($2.50 round trip). Additional parking will be available east of the village off Cortez Road. Information: 941-254-4972 or www.cortez-fish.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow Twitter.com/martinclear.