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Not just strawberries

Rides, live entertainment and, of course, strawberries are on the list for this year’s Strawberry Festival, which starts Thursday and runs through March 10 in Plant City.

For the 67th year running, the sweetened festivities will include the normal big-name country music entertainers plus some new daily concerts.

On the lineup for the daily performances is ventriloquist Terry Fator, with an Elvis Presley-impersonating puppet, the Chinese Acrobats, who have performed at Cirque du Soleil in Orlando, and Linda Lou and the Lucky Four, a family act recently featured in a Wal-Mart commercial.

Festival Executive Director Patsy Brooks advises visitors to arrive early for these acts.

“The shows will fill up fast,” she said.

Tickets for the big-name performers are close to selling out, especially those for Vince Gill and Brad Paisley. Tickets for Toby Keith’s two performances are already gone.

A limited number of tickets are available for other night shows, which include Dennis Lee, the Southern Star Bluegrass Band and the Fox Brothers.

“There’s always something going on somewhere on the festival grounds,” said Brooks, adding that the constant activity is what makes the festival so unique and satisfying.

The festival has already been billed as one of the top 25 fairs in the country, according to the festival’s media room.Various art competitions and exhibits will also take place throughout the festival grounds.

A fine arts and photography show, Plant City gardening clinic and a Pioneer Skills demonstration will be offered daily.

There will also be plenty of strawberry shortcake for everyone, plus six locations to purchase crates of the fresh fruit.

Rides will complete the entertainment package, giving visitors of every age something to do between bathroom trips to wash off strawberry-stained fingers.

The midway will open daily at noon, except on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, when it will open at 10 a.m. The Strawberry Patch Kiddy Corral, a self-contained area of rides near Gate 5 that is especially for little ones, will open daily at 10 a.m.Gate admission prices vary by day and coupons but are generally set at $7.

Several days of the fair’s duration have been set aside for special discounts and extended riding events.

Thursday is the grand opening day, during which senior citizens, age 60 and over, get $1 off admission. Wristbands may also be purchased by any visitor for $14, enabling them to ride most mechanical rides from 3 – 11 p.m.

Friday is Pepsi Day, when a $1 discount is given off the regular gate admission price with a Pepsi coupon. Also on Friday, Moonlight Magic Night starts. Beginning at 11 p.m., patrons can purchase a $17 wristband and spend the late hours on midway rides.

Saturday is Kids’ Day, and kids through high school age are admitted free all day, with ride ticket prices reduced until 4 p.m., and a kids’ parade will be held in the festival stadium at 11 a.m.Monday is Grand Parade Day, when visitors may purchase a Ride-a-Thon wristband for $14 and go on unlimited mechanical rides. The feature parade will run through downtown Plant City at 2 p.m.

March 5-7 are also Ride-a-Thon days, with another “Moonlight Magic Night” the following Friday.

Security will be tight this year, so festival-goers are asked to expect some delays.

According to Brooks, the events of Sept. 11 have caused concern for visitors’ safety.

Bomb-sniffing dogs will be in the parking area, and any items that are not in clear plastic (including purses and backpacks) will be checked at the front gate.

Extra deputies have also been assigned to the area.

  • Contact Danielle Ritchie at