For the past 28 years, Taste of Manatee has always been scheduled for the first weekend in November. But the last couple of years, rainy weather has kept the crowds smaller than usual.
So this year, organizers are trying something different. They've moved to the popular celebration of local food and music to October for the first time ever.
"We moved it up a month," festival official Mark Sticht said. "We're hoping that that will give us better weather."
The 29th annual Taste of Manatee is Saturday and Sunday at Sutton Park in Palmetto, and the forecast looks promising with dry fall weather headed our way.
It should be an exciting year, Sticht said. Besides the new date, the 2015 edition of Taste of Manatee features car shows for the first time. They should be a part of the festival from this point on.
"We are working on rebranding the Taste of Manatee to be food, music and cars," Sticht said. "Three things America loves."
On Saturday, the festival will host a classic car show, featuring, Sticht said, "the nicest classic restored cars you'll see any place in the world."
On Sunday, the Gulf Coast Corvette Club will be on hand for a Corvette show, featuring vintage and contemporary examples of the iconic sports car. The Gulf Coast Corvette Club has incited other area sports car clubs to participate, too, so just about any kind of sports car could be at Taste of Manatee on Sunday.
Of course, the focus of Taste of Manatee will always be on food, and this year's festival will feature offerings from more than 20 of the best and most popular restaurants in the county. Some non-restaurant organizations will also be selling their culinary creations. Among the participating eateries this year are J&J's Barbecue, Riverside Barbecue, Blu Mangrove, Mexicali, Riverhouse Reef and Grill, Fratello's, St. Mark's Orthodox Church, Bom Grill, Jersey Mike's Subs, Big Cow Creamery, Manatee Riverside Rotary, Southeast High School and Sugar Cubed.
This year's music lineup is one of the best ever, thanks to headliner Sam Woolf. As just about anyone who has lived in Manatee County for more than a few months knows, Woolf is the young man from Bradenton who became a national sensation during his run on "American Idol" last year. He finished in fifth place, and his since toured the country with other top finishers. He's also released his first EP, "Pretend." He's now a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He'll perform at Taste of Manatee 7:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday. Other area acts will perform all through the festival.
The festival is free, but it still raises money for great community causes. All the food vendors will donate some of their earnings to the Kiwanis Club, which sponsors the event. The Kiwanis Club in turn supports a lot of local charities, including Meals on Wheels, the Pace Center for Girls, Boys & Girls Clubs, the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, Our Daily Bread, Hope Family Services and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Details: Oct. 3-4, Sutton Park, Sixth Street West at 10th Avenue West, Palmetto. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: Free. Information: 941-705-5321, tasteofmanatee.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.