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DeSoto Festival serves up seafood, Syesha

BRADENTON — Thousands of people flocked downtown for crab cakes, fried shrimp, grouper and the chance to hear Syesha Mercado perform Friday night.

The DeSoto Seafood Festival continues today and Sunday with more than 40 local and national restaurants offering an assortment of fried, baked and raw delicacies from local waters, serving up everything from clams to frog legs.

While last year’s event attracted an estimated 35,000 people, attendance is expected to increase to about 40,000 with more musical acts and a new children’s zone.

Several people said they came out specifically Friday night when the festival kicked off just to see and hear Syesha perform. Syesha, who rose to fame on the last season of “American Idol” as a finalist, performed several songs on the main stage.

A large crowd gathered for the performance.

Maria Williams, 53, of Bradenton, sat with her husband, Ron, eating shrimp and rice. The entertainment was a draw for the couple.

“(Syesha) has an amazing voice,” said Williams, who saw her perform live for the first time. “We wanted to see Syesha.”

Williams began singing an Alicia Keys cover, “If I Ain’t Got You,” that Syesha belted when asked her favorite song was.

Eileen Czecholinski sat with her grandchildren eating a $25 plate of seafood piled high with an assortment of crab, cakes, shrimp and clams.

“We voted for her when she was on Idol. She should have been Idol,” she said.

Czecholinski and her family stood fourth row from the main stage when Syesha performed.

“She’s very kind to her fans,” Czecholinski said.

Tonight’s act will include local band, One Night Rodeo, winners of last year’s Next Great American Country Star on the GAC network. The group is scheduled to perform at 6 p.m.

There are a total of three stages this year offering a variety of music. A poker run is today at the festival to benefit the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranch.