LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Despite the threatening skies and severe weather warnings, music legends and legends-in-the-making played their hearts out at the first Winterfest at Lakewood Ranch on Saturday, in an all-day event that mixed rock, southern rock, country and a dose of Chuck Berry music played by a local 12-year-old headed for stardom.
Music lovers and fans of all ages milled around the huge stage set up in the middle of the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch, listening, clapping and snapping photos of legends like the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Kansas, Rick Derringer, Alabama's Jeff Cook and Bertie
Higgins of "Key Largo" and "Casablanca" fame.
Winterfest goers, many of whom had never been to Lakewood Ranch before, came from as far away as Colorado on their spring break to experience the family-friendly event, which Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, developers of Lakewood Ranch, plan on growing to rival some of the biggest festivals in the country.
Palmetto's own Jake Castro, a 12-year-old wonder on the guitar who has brought a new generational twist to the music of Berry, Richie Valens, Elvis Presley and Santana, was eager to perform in Lakewood Ranch with his Jake Castro Band, in the same lineup as his Grammy Award-winning mentor, Cook.
A hit at the annual Strawberry Festival, held recently in Plant City, the home-schooled Castro was inspired by his father, who loved to play '50s and '60s oldies music in the house while Castro was growing up. Mature for his young age, Castro, who calls the stars he often performs with "tremendous people," says the crowd energizes him.
"The bigger the crowd, the better I play. I'm not afraid. The crowd inspires me to do better," said Castro, who admitted he's not starstruck by all the recent attention he's received. Rather, he wants to make being a musician a full-time career and not end up a one-hit wonder.
Castro's mother, Lisa, calls her son an "old soul" who has music ingrained in him.
"Jake can take an old song and put his flavor into it, and he doesn't lose the essence of the music."
Dennis Mogg and his wife, Sonny, Canadians who vacation in Venice in the winter, said this was their first time visiting Lakewood Ranch, and they intend to visit again.
"This is an awesome concert and an impeccable place. I'm from Western Canada, so I like country music," Dennis Mogg said.
Sixteen-year-old Whitney Parker, of Bradenton, who came to Winterfest with her family and her mother, is a huge fan of country music's young heartthrob, Ty Herndon. Parker said she was thrilled to see him perform live.
"He's awesome. What isn't there to like about country?" Parker said while Herndon belted out songs for the crowd,
In the afternoon, Tarpon Springs' Bertie Higgins took the stage. Higgins, who scored it big writing romantic ballads like 1981's "Key Largo," has reinvented his career throughout the years. He now writes scripts and produces movies with his son in California but says he still loves to perform in Florida.
"Everything runs full circle. It's all OK, and it's nice to be here," Higgins said.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-1010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.