LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Whether you grew up in the 1970s listening on a transistor radio to rock hits like "Black Water" from the wildly popular Doobie Brothers Band, or you just became part of the "Woolf Pack," following "American Idol" competitor Sam Woolf, formerly of Bradenton, Winterfest 2015 proved to be everything the crowd wanted during a day of top national and local musical entertainment in Lakewood Ranch.
Even the cloudy skies and intermittent rain showers couldn't dampen the upbeat mood of the crowd that steadily made its way to the second annual winter event held at the Premier Sports Campus off State Road 70.
Wearing rain gear and carrying folding chairs and blankets, festivalgoers spread out in front of a huge screen on the main stage to view the live performances that lasted well into the evening.
Many first timers to Winterfest said they came primarily to see the four-time Grammy Award-winning Doobie Brothers, bringing back memories of their youth when the group was a mainstay on American pop music radio.
Elaine Clark, of Lakewood Ranch, who journeyed to Winterfest with her sister-in-law, said she was also excited to see Thompson Square, a husband-and-wife duo climbing the country charts.
"We've been converted to country music since we moved to Florida from New jersey. I wouldn't have listened to anything like that before I got here." To which Clark's sister-in-law, Sue Pagano, said, "This is top entertainment for the price of a ticket."
Advance ticket holders who paid $45 to get through the gates (tickets were $60 at the gate), also got to hear the band War perform "Spill the Wine," a No. 1 1969 single when lead singer Eric Burdon, formerly of The Animals, was part of the band. Les Sabler, a former Sarasota resident for 19 years, has brought joy to jazz lovers with his smooth guitar and vocal mix.
"I always love playing outdoors, and even with the dicey weather, we did fine today," said Sabler, who now lives in Nashville. "I played for many years in the park at St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota and it was always my favorite gig. We used to get thousands of people."
Woolf, a Braden River High School graduate who has now became national singing/guitar-playing phenomenon during his run on "AI," wowed the crowd with his soulful sound and thanked his mentor, Del Couch, who helped Woolf attend a special program for high school students at Berkley College of Music in Boston, which ultimately led to Woolf's appearance on "American Idol" last year.
Helping young talent
Couch, who also took part in Winterfest 2015, managing a community stage where students of his non-profit, Palmetto-based Music Education Foundation performed between the larger acts, said the event helps bring exposure to his school and the young talent he helps.
"This event brings my kids to another level. In Sam's case, he sang here last year and now he's a feature act, getting paid considerable sums to perform. This really is an invaluable experience," Couch said, introducing one of his up-and-coming students, Matt Waldon, who performed before War took center stage.
"My ultimate goal is to tour the world and play music for people," said Waldon, who is using social media as a way to reach out to record companies. "But, I want my music to have meaning because the music isn't real anymore."
Between musical acts, festivalgoers were also treated to a variety of food and drinks from vendors, while children played in a A Kids Zone set up away from the main stage.
For Patti McHugh, a seasonal resident who splits her time between Florida and Rochester, N.Y., with her husband, Mike, Winterfest 2015 brought back some golden oldie memories.
"I like the old music because I can understand the words and I can dance. I went to the post-Woodstock Summer Jam in 1973 in New York and there were thousands of people there. They should have a Lakewood Ranch Woodstock. Now, wouldn't that be something?"
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.