Fun at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City starts with everyone’s favorite lil’ red fruit — especially when it’s presented with shortcake and a heaping pile of whipped cream.
But then there’s the annually awesome, twang-ily terrific entertainment lineup. This year, attendees are treated to a rad roster starring 19-year-old Nashville singer/songwriter sensation Taylor Swift. Legendary Nashville crooner George Jones and pop-queen-gone-country-gal Jessica Simpson are also on the lineup. Not into the whole two-step thang? Fabulous funksters Kool and the Gang are scheduled to appear, as well.
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What: The Florida Strawberry Festival
When: Feb. 26-March 8
Where: 2202 West Reynolds St., Plant City
Information: (813) 754-1996, flstrawberryfestival.com
George Jones: Thurs., Feb. 26, 3:30 p.m., $15, $20
Country music’s greatest living vocalist, the 77-year-old Texas singer proved he could still turn a phrase and bound from the upper to lower register with masterful ease when he played the Strawberry Festival several years back. Jones’ laundry list of hit country songs started with 1955’s “Why Baby Why” and includes genre classics like “White Lightning,” “The Grand Tour” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers: Thurs., Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m., $10, $15
Specializing in sweet, close vocal harmonies, the Gatlin Brothers notched pop-country hits in the 1970s and ’80s with titles like “I’ve Done Enough Dyin’ Today,” “All the Gold in California” and “Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer to You).”
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Fri., Feb. 27, 3:30 p.m., $10, $15
The original Nitty Gritty Dirt band lineup played a key role in merging the worlds of folk-rock and honky tonk with their landmark 1972 triple-album “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” which featured appearances by such Nashville luminaries as Roy Acuff and Earl Scruggs.
Kellie Pickler: Fri., Feb. 27, 7:30 p.m., $10, $15
“American Idol” Kellie Pickler didn’t win season five, but the 22-year-old Southern belle has found country stardom with a string of hits, including last year’s singles “Best Days of Our Lives” and “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful.”
Jake Owen: Sat., Feb. 28, 3:30 p.m. $10, $15
Vero Beach-native and former FSU attendee Jake Owen has made good on his Abercrombie and Fitch model looks and serviceable singing chops, scoring hits like 2006’s “Yee Haw” and ’07’s “Somethin’ About a Woman.”
Third Day: Sat., Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m., $10, $15
Best-selling Contemporary Christian act Third Day offers a high-gloss version of Southern rock with lyrics that walk the line between fun and worship.
Rodney Atkins: Sun., March 1, 3:30 p.m., $15, $20
Tennessee singer/songwriter Rodney Atkins has become a country star in recent years thanks, in large part, to the gritty, candid single “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” and the humorous, high school dating cautionary tale “Cleaning This Gun (Come on In Boy).” Atkins’ new disc “It’s America” is scheduled to drop Feb. 17.
Taylor Swift: Sun., March 1, 7:30 p.m., $45
Country cutie Taylor Swift might be only 19 years old, but the singer/songwriter is Nashville’s current queen. At press time, Swift’s foxy face was scheduled to appear on the cover of the latest “Rolling Stone” magazine, her album “Fearless” was at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 after 14 weeks on the chart (ahead of the Grammy-winning Plant/Krauss collaboration), and her self-penned song “Love Story” sat at No. 7 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles survey ahead of entries by Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé. And unlike other starlets we won’t mention, Swift has managed to stay scandal free. “She really is like a tomboy,” notes Rolling Stone writer Vanessa Grigoriadis on the magazine’s Web site. “I asked her if she likes to get manicures and she was like ‘No, I don’t do that.’ She doesn’t go get massages, she eats crappy food.” What’s not to love about that?!
Jim Ed Brown with Helen Cornelius: Mon., March 2, 3:30 p.m., $10, $15
Brown scored sumptuously produced countrypolitan hits in the 1970s with titles like “Morning,” “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You” and “Lying in Love with You.”
Randy Travis: Mon., March 2, 7:30 p.m., $10, $15
For a while there, Travis kept pace with fellow country neo-traditionalist George Strait as Nashville’s most reliable hit machine. Travis doesn’t top the charts like he used to, but his back catalogue is rife with 1980s country gold like “On the Other Hand,” “Diggin’ Up Bones” and “Forever and Ever, Amen.”
Marty Stuart with Connie Smith: Tue., March 3rd - 3:30 p.m. $10, $15
One of Nashville’s most versatile players, Marty Stuart has done everything from honky tonk to rock to bluegrass. He’s best known, though, for a run of early 1990s hits that included the Top 5 country single “Tempted.”
Travis Tritt: Tues., March 3, 7:30 p.m. $15, $20
By the early ’90s, Hank Williams Jr.’s career had faded and Nashville needed another faux outlaw. Enter Travis Tritt, a country singer with a love for loud guitars who wasn’t afraid to sing about life’s wilder side (“The Whiskey Ain’t Working,” “T-R-O-U-B-L-E,”) and deliver a killer kiss-off like “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares).”
Brenda Lee: Wed., March 4, 3:30 p.m. $10, $15
Before Jessica Simpson and Jewel, there was Brenda Lee, a major pop star of the early 1960s who smartly switched to country in the ’70s when her pop power waned. Her big hits include 1960’s “I Want to Be Wanted” and “I’m Sorry” as well the 1974 country Top 10 “Big Four Poster Bed.”
Ray Stevens: Wed., March 4, 7:30 p.m., $10, $15
Singing funny man Ray Stevens kept country listeners laughing through much of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s with numbers like “Harry the Hairy Ape,” “Bridget the Midget (Queen of the Blues” and “Shriner’s Convention.”
Mel Tillis: Thursday, Mar. 5th - 3:30pm Tickets $10, $15
Tampa native and former Plant City resident Mel Tillis returns home to croon ’70s country-pop gems like “I Ain’t Never,” “Good Woman Blues” and “Coca Cola Cowboy.” If attendees are lucky, the self-proclaimed Stutterin’ Boy will also perform his self-penned classics “Detroit City” and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your love to Town,” both of which were hits for other artists before Tillis made the move from songwriter to singer.
Lorrie Morgan: Thurs., March 5, 7:30 p.m. $10, $15
Lorrie Morgan sang with sass and a wink on the 1992 No. 1 country hit “What Part of No,” but she is perhaps best known as the widow of country great Keith Whitely, who accidentally drank himself to death in ’89.
Ronnie McDowell: Fri., March 6, 3:30 p.m. $10, $15
Elvis Presley lookalike Ronnie McDowell had a couple chart-topping country singles in the 1980s with “Older Women” and “Don’t Ruin My Bad Reputation.”
Jeff Foxworthy: Fri., March 6, 7:30 p.m., $35
The king of redneck comedy brings his funny, family-friendly schtick and, we hope, a fresh batch of “You might be a redneck ifs.” Personal fave? “If you have used a bar stool as a walker.”
Mark Lowry: Sat., March 7, 3:30 p.m., $10, $15
Lowry is a Christian comedian, singer and songwriter who last year released the album “I Love to Tell the Story: A Hymns Collection.”
Kool & the Gang: Sat., March 7, 7:30 p.m. $15, $20
Tired of all that twang? Let Kool & the Gang get you going with 1970s funk like “Jungle Boogie,” “Higher Plane” and “Spirit of the Boogie.”
Trent Tomlinson: Sun., March 8, 3 p.m. (free with gate admission)
Neo-outlaw Trent Tomlinson played the roughneck role well on his 2005 breakthrough hit “Drunker Than Me.”
Jessica Simpson: Sun., March 8, 7:30 p.m. $25, $30
A mediocre pop star and average country singer, Jessica Simpson is just so darn charming we can’t help but root for her — and shake our fists at those loser bloggers dissing her for putting on a few extra holidays pounds. Back off, haters! Jessica, we think you look lovely.