Hush puppies, shrimp, crab cakes. You name it, the Seafood Festival has it. Branding itself as a “quality” festival, the event draws area residents by the thousands to downtown Bradenton.
They come to take in sights of art work along the scenic riverfront, the sounds of enjoyable music entertainment and the satisfying aroma of seafood.
The three-day event, which is part of the annual DeSoto Heritage Festival, is this weekend from Friday to Sunday. The festival is expanding this year to include more bands featured on an additional stage, a free kid’s zone and a new bar area.
More than 40 local and national seafood restaurants will be there as well.
Last year’s event attracted 35,000 people. This year, more than 40,000 are expected to attend, said David Quaderer, who believes the festival is the largest of its kind in the Manatee and Sarasota area.
“We have something for everyone,” Quaderer said.
Headlining the event is Bradenton’s own Syesha Mercado, who rose to fame on last season’s “American Idol.” She’ll perform at 6:30 p.m. Friday on the main stage. There’s also country music star Tracy Byrd, who will perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
And remember local band One Night Rodeo, winners of last year’s Next Great American Country Star on the GAC network? They will perform too, at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Other popular local bands will be showcased as well — from classic rock groups to a 12-piece swing band. Instead of two stages, as in years past, there will be three for groups to perform on, offering more variety for music fans.
Festivalgoers also can look forward to a new children’s zone, which will be placed in the parking lot of the county library.
The free area will have a train ride, a moon walk, Tampa Bay Rays batting cage and other activities.
Besides music and food, guests can lounge at three festival bar tents this year instead of the usual two.
Quaderer said there will be about 900 cases of beer and 200 kegs on hand.
Another popular element of the festival is the unique arts and crafts vendors. Many artists will be offering one-of-a-kind items made by hand, Quaderer said. This year, more than 100 artists are expected.
Part of the festival proceeds go toward supporting local charities. More than $60,000 was donated last year to nonprofits that included the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County, Lighthouse for the Blind, Toys for Tots and several others. A poker run will be held Saturday, to benefit the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranch.
Quaderer said the festival has been around for more than 35 years, morphing out of an Ethnic Nights festival that featured food from around the world. Organizers realized seafood was a bigger draw, he said.
He said people have loved all that the festival has to offer, which keeps them coming back year after year.
“They enjoy the variety,” Quaderer said. “The quality of the food and the variety of the arts and the entertainment.”
January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.