Florida Strawberry Festival cancels headline entertainment due to COVID-19 concerns

Hillsborough County

PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Strawberry Festival announced Thursday that it has decided to forgo headline entertainment for next year’s event.

“We are diligently planning to ensure visitors to the 2021 festival can have a safe and fun
experience with their families just like they have for 85 years,” said Florida Strawberry Festival
President Paul Davis. “This year, we believe it is in the best interest of everyone, guests and entertainers, to not have patrons sitting shoulder to shoulder for an extended period of time.”

The 11-day festival, which is scheduled for March 4 to 14, typically hosts 24 headline entertainers in its stadium that seats approximately 9,000 people.

Davis said the festival’s other attractions, such as rides, livestock shows, on-grounds entertainment, concessions and exhibits, will continue at this point since they are held either outdoors, in open-air facilities or in areas where guests can move around as they please.

“We have met with the Hillsborough County Health Department along with local and state
officials to ensure we’re up to date with the latest guidelines and recommendations and will
continue to do that leading up to the 2021 event,” said Davis. “Everyone we have met with feels
confident that the plan we’re developing for our festival this year will be safe and effective.”

In response to the changes, the festival’s entertainment committee plans to offer more on-grounds entertainment, which is included with gate admission.

“We realize this has been a difficult year for everyone and this change is not what any of us
wanted,” said Davis. “But we all need something to look forward to, and we are more energized
than ever to provide an event where families can leave saying, ‘This is just what we needed.’”

There will also be changes to another popular feature at the Strawberry Festival. St. Clement Catholic Church works each year to produce thousands of strawberry shortcakes to sell at the festival. This year, they have concerns.

“We have 75 volunteers per day in the booth. We have 150 volunteers in the hall hulling berries every day and most of them are retired and older and basically in the high risk for COVID-19,” said Jessica Bazley who is one of the organizers of the St. Clement Catholic Church strawberry shortcake effort.

Last year their committee raised more than $180,000 for the church.

“Every year we use the proceeds for debt reduction and programs in the church, youth programs, mortgage payments. I mean we use that money,” said Bazley.

This year the group has decided not to have any advance ticket sales. Last year the advance sales raised more than $10,000. The group is also trying to think of creative ways to be able to sell their shortcakes safely for everyone.

“If they go on the outside of the booth and they never come in and there is plexiglass and they point to what they want, it’s not the same experience as making your own shortcake, but it would keep em safe, it would lower the number of people in our booth,” said Bazley.

The plan is still a work in progress. Bazley says the fundraiser is important, but the lives of their volunteers are more important.

“If one person gets sick, that’s too many,” said Bazley.

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