MANATEE -- As a cool breeze floated through the three-ring tent at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church early Thursday afternoon, onlookers held their hands above their heads and clapped in unison to Greek musical harmony.
After making his way from the stage to the dance floor, Greek vocalist Elias Poulos Konstantinou waltzed through the crowd, serenading them with his baritone voice. A small group of volunteers for the church’s annual Greek Glendi festival took to the dance floor, joining in what is called the “sailor’s dance,” locking at the shoulder and bouncing to the rhythm of the bouzouki, a Greek stringed musical instrument.
For the next three days, those who attend the annual festival at 7671 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, southern Manatee County, can witness moments like these while enjoying the sounds of authentic Greek music provided by Ellada, a band made up of some of the best Greek musicians in the nation. This week marks the band’s fourth time performing at the festival.
“Greek music is composed of many different styles of music,” said Ellada keyboard player and vocalist Dino Theofilos. “There are different types of songs from different cities in Greece and the different island of Greece have their own dance that they perform, as well as the traditional kalamata.”
Playing the bouzouki Thursday, the opening day of the festival, was renown musician Georgos Soffos, the 2011 recipient of the Florida Folk Heritage Award and national Folk Heritage Award finalist. Theofilos was once member of The Fabulous Grecian Keys, founded by his father, Tykie, over 40 years ago in Ohio.
Poulos has been singing and writing Greek music for 30 years and has performed all over the world. Ellada plays on the last Thursday of every month at the El Greco Cafe located at the corners of Main Street and Orange in downtown Sarasota.
“This music has been played for hundreds of years and we just modernized it with keyboards and the bouzouki and the sound system we have,” Theofilos said.
Theofilos has performed at various international Greek festivals around the globe, but said Greek Glendi at St. Barbara’s serves the best Greek dishes.
“This is the probably the best Greek food and the atmosphere with these tents and the whole thing is really put together well,” he said. “The pastries are authentic tasting and the foods are authentic, They’re not store bought, they are made here.”
Soffos and Dino Theofilos grew up together in Warren, Ohio. They attended Greek school together and would spend their afternoons playing instruments together. They reunited nearly eight years ago when Dino moved to Florida.
“I used to sit on his porch and he’d play the bouzouki and I’d play the accordion and I’d say “one day, we’re going to have a band”, never knowing we would meet up down here,” Dino said. “That’s 1,500 miles away.”
After a short intermission, Tykie joined his son on stage for a few songs. Tykie, 86, was born just outside Sparta in Greece and moved to the U.S. in 1928 at the age of 2. He has attended Greek Glendi for the past seven years.
“The instrumentation is what really makes this sound,” Tykie said. “We’re very fortunate to have these three boys here.”
The 28th annual Greek Glendi continues 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. today and Saturday, .and noon- 8 p.m. Sunday.
Cost: $4. Children under 12 admitted free.
Nick Williams, East Manatee Reporter, can be reached at (941) 748-0411 ext. 7049. Tweet: @_1NickWilliams