It's winter in Florida. The weather's pretty awesome. The outdoors is calling, and festival season is underway.
Whether you fancy fine art, the blues or a taste of barbecue, those itching to get out and about have a couple of weekend options. Best of all, attendance will help raise money for local school scholarships and arts and extracurricular programs.
Pigz n' Z'Hills BBQ and Blues Festival
Be sure to bring your appetite to the ninth-annual Pigz n' Z'Hills BBQ and Blues Festival, held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19 at 5200 Airport Road in Zephyrhills.
The event, sponsored by the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, will feature 50 teams, with professionals competing for $10,000 in prizes, said Chamber executive director Melonie Monson.
"We're one of the three largest barbecue contests in the state, and we just keep growing," she said, noting that 2,000 people showed up for the inaugural event. "Last year, over 12,000 attended the festival."
Since its inception, the annual festival has qualified for three prestigious championship contests: The Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational in Lynchburg, Tennessee; the American Royal World Series of BBQ in Kansas City; and the Sonny's Smokin' Showdown Invitational.
Tampa's own blues artist and master slide guitar and steel lap player, Damon Fowler, will be back as the headline act.
"He hasn't performed for a few years, so we're very excited to have him back. He's really hot in the state," Monson said.
Also performing: Bird Tribe, Chuck Riley's All Star Band, Ellie Lee Band and Dave Shepard Band.
New this year is a corn hole tournament featuring a "well-seasoned" division for serious competitors, which starts at noon ($40 per team, with a $500 payout and trophies for the winners), and a "still-marinating" recreational bout that kicks off at 3 p.m. ($20 per team, with trophies for the winners).
Add to that a classic car show, Aviation Showcase, Military Museum and Business Expo. There also will be a dedicated Kid's Zone, as well as an array of concession and retail vendors.
About 150 volunteers help put on the event, Monson said. Proceeds support youth and education programs as well as scholarships for graduating seniors from Zephyrhills High. In nine years, the event has helped the chamber provide $24,000 in scholarships.
Entry is free. Parking is $10. Seating is limited, so bring lawn chairs. No pets or coolers. For information or to register for the Cornhole Tourney, go to ZephyrhillsChamber.org, call (813)782-1913; or stop by the Chamber office at 38550 5th Avenue, Zephyrhills.
Suncoast Arts Fest
The 14th annual Suncoast Arts Fest will be held Jan. 19-20 at the Shops of Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel.
The two-day event is free and will feature the works of about 100 artists from around the country, live entertainment and artistic activities for kids. In past years, up to 100,000 visitors have attended the weekend festival.
"I'm really excited that we have a lot of new artists this year," said board chair Amanda Marier.
The event also features live entertainment over the two days. Performers for Saturday will include the Richey Suncoast Kidz Theatre, John Emil (Blues), Gypsy Wind (Kentucky bluegrass/gypsy swing, Wesley Chapel Wind Ensemble and headliner Hot Sun Quartet (jazz). Sunday performances include Suncoast Dance Theatre, Mr. Harley (Interactive children's music), Klein & Hopper (classic rock and pop) and Tampa blues legend, Sarasota Slim.
Other activities include a Van Gogh-themed art garden with free activities for the kids, a Chalk Garden featuring 10 professional artists creating street murals and an Art Makerspace presented by the Land O' Lakes Library.
The event is sponsored by the Fine Arts of the Suncoast, a charitable organization that provides funding for fine and performing arts programs in Pasco County Schools.
Proceeds from the 2018 show funded 15 grants averaging $500 for Pasco County art teachers. Since its inception, the event has raised more than $100,000, Marier said, adding that the new board of directors is focused on growing the event and the teachers' grant program.
For information, go to suncoastartsfest.com.
Mark your calendars:
Celtic Family Jamboree, Feb 8-9 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, 85 Myers Road, Brooksville. Live bands, Highland athletics demo, camping, workshops. For information and tickets, go to www.celticheritageproductions.com/fj.htm
Pasco Blues and Food Festival, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 9 at Heritage Park, 5401 Land O' Lakes Boulevard, Land O' Lakes. Features live entertainment from local artists, local blues musicians. General admission is $5.
Pasco County Fair, Feb. 18-24 at the Pasco County Fairgrounds, 36733 State Road 52, Dade City. Carnival rides, championship rodeo, pageants, youth exhibits, contests, live entertainment. For information, go to www.pascocountyfair.com.
30th-annual Will McLean Music Festival, March 7-10 at Sertoma Youth Ranch, 85 Myers Road, Brooksville. This festival celebrates the music, stories and poetry of the "Father of Florida Folk." Features live bands, the 2019 songwriting contest winner, instrumental workshops, young musicians program and more. For information and tickets go to www.willmclean.com
Spring Blues Bash at the Ranch, March 15-17 at Sertoma Youth Ranch, 85 Myers Road, Brooksville. This inaugural fest will include blues artists, harmonica and guitar workshops, camping, vendors and more. Family and dog friendly. For information and tickets, go to www.bluesbashattheranch.com.
Spring Bluegrass Festival, March 22-24 at Sertoma Youth Ranch, 85 Myers Road, Brooksville. Four days of bluegrass music, kids zone and more. For information and tickets, go to www.evansmediasource.com.
Chasco Fiesta, March 29-April 6, in Sims Park in downtown New Port Richey. The nine-day event features a Native American Festival, carnival rides, street parade, boat parade and music. Entertainment each day. Headliners include Eddie Money and Michael Ray. For information, go to www.chascofiesta.com
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.