For the past two years I have attended the Rattlesnake Roundup in San Antonio, Fla. and for the past two years I have longed to return. Every year on the third weekend of October, the small city, located about 30 miles from USF, hosts a festival full of mullets, corn-on-the-cob’s and, of course, snakes.
San Antonio is a city with only one flashing stop light in town, and the nearby Dade City seems as though it is frozen in the ’50s. Its little shops look like they could have been used as a set in Back to The Future. Given all this, both towns are also as southern as Florida gets, with nothing but pastures and friendly faces which peer out of trucks with shotgun racks.
I discovered the festival three years ago through a friend of mine, whose family lives in Dade City. I’m not quite sure how she knew about it, but we decided to attend this event and see what kind of cultural experiences we could get out of it.
In past years, the festival has been the same, and I can’t imagine it changing this year. It is located in a public square which is normally empty, but for a few days a year, it fills up with art and craft booths, a snake-handling arena and a barbecue stand.
The only attraction where you can actually see snakes is the “Snakes Alive” show conducted by two trained snake handlers. The show is the same each year, but hey, it’s always amusing to see a giant boa constrictor wrapping around the legs of a man in his 60s who claims he’s handled pet snakes for decades.
The “Snakes Alive” show is the only paid attraction at the festival. Everything else, other than food, is free and fun for all. The stands with homemade crafts range in creativity from wooden decorations to security jackets. Yes, security jackets. These strange, but apparently useful, things are nothing more than colorful vests, and only those who make them know exactly what they are.
The weekend is also filled with musical acts on a makeshift stage, ranging from bluegrass, country and folk music to Sunday morning’s gospel performance. The musicians are not the cream of the crop, but they provide ample opportunity to rock out folk style.
Another staple of the weekend is the Southern food, which includes corn on the cob, beef and chicken barbecues, sausage sandwiches, boiled peanuts and fish dinners. These home-made delectables are inexpensive and purely delicious.
But really, the rattlesnake show is only an excuse to venture north. The best part of the day is watching those who attend the festival. Most of these people have come to the Roundup every year since it opened in 1967. This is not just a festival; it’s a social gathering where people come to see their family and friends, catch up over an original Southern style barbecue and watch the display of monster trucks and old train parts.
Another part of the attraction is the overload of amazing ’80s haircuts that will mean the world to any skilled mullet hunter. Mind you, these mullets have nothing to do with fish. These beauties range from exquisite examples of the femullet to gorgeous camaromullets (oh, you know at least one person who sported one back in the day). Such rare hairdos now only appear in a few areas of the country on such a scale as this.
The Rattlesnake Roundup is only one of the several festivals held in the greater Tampa area in the fall and winter. Others include the Kumquat Festival (January in Dade City) and the Flapjack Festival (November in Land O’ Lakes). The rural areas outside of Tampa are booming. It just takes a little research to find out where everything goes on. The Rattlesnake Roundup is a great way to start the fall.
Olga Robak is scene’s Entertainment Editor and can be reached at email@example.com