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Never a dull weekend



Friday Fest

From its humble beginnings more than 25 years ago Friday Fest has become a major magnet for residents, business people and visitors with thousands of people attending the first-Fridays monthly event. With its vendors and live music it is now a traditional way to welcome the weekend. MAIN STREET FORT PIERCE PHOTO

Calendars overflowing with an abundance of festivals

BY SUSAN BURGESS

On any given weekend 25 years ago, you could have thrown a conch shell down a street in downtown Fort Pierce with no danger of hitting anyone. Today, you’d be standing in the middle of a large crowd enjoying music, food and a balmy day on the waterfront.

A lot of people have worked really hard to make this transition and aside from the years of the Great Recession, events have continued to grow, weekend calendars have filled with festivals, benefiting the city and some charities.

“I wouldn’t exactly call it a festival city,” Main Street Fort Pierce director Doris Tillman says, “but there is a whole lot more going on than there used to be, and most weekends you’ll find something to do in downtown Fort Pierce.”

FridayFest, on the first Friday of each month, weather permitting, has become a huge attraction since its humble beginnings about 28 years ago when only a few friends showed up to party. Proceeds help Main Street continue its work to keep the downtown vibrant.

The Downtown Fort Pierce Farmers’ Market draws thousands of people each Saturday year-round. Held on the waterfront, it features live music, fresh foods and produce, local honey, soaps and flowers. People come to soak up the sunshine, eat breakfast, breathe in the sea air and spend money. Adjacent is the Jazz Market – an arts and crafts market that benefits the Fort Pierce Jazz & Blues Society. And, each Wednesday afternoon a green market opens to crowds who are looking for fresh locally grown produce.

Pam Gillette, Main Street’s events manager, points out that the Sandy Shoes Festival, which started in 1956, is perhaps the granddaddy of all Fort Pierce festivals, the anchor around which others were built.

Fast forward to 1979 and it had grown into a giant event, nine days long, spread out from the civic center on South 25th Street to the waterfront to the Coast Guard station on Seaway Drive.

Events ranged from the Cattlemen’s Parade, in honor of the first Sandy Shoes that started as a cattlemen’s event, to a high school rodeo, art show, foot race, a Seminole village and many different competitions. More about the early days, and photos, can be found at news.google.com in the archived newspaper section.

Although the festival eventually went on hiatus for some years, it was restarted by Main Street in 2002. Since then, it underwent one more transformation, joining with a seafood festival to become Taste of the Sea and Sandy Shoes Seafood Festival. Bev Smith Toyota is a main sponsor of the popular event. This year it will be held on March 19 at Veterans Memorial Park.

The annual Pirate Fest is a huge event that opens with an over-18-only party on Friday, Feb. 5, followed by two days of family-friendly events suitable for all ages. The estimated attendance this year is 25,000 to 28,000 at Veterans Memorial Park. It features competitions, demonstrations, vendors, food, drink and music. The Treasure Coast Food Bank will be collecting canned goods and nonperishable foods at the entrance, so come prepared to have a good time and to help families in need.

The Oyster Festival is on April 2 in Marina Square. Not only do participants have a good time feasting on the mollusks, they also help clean the Indian River Lagoon by contributing the oyster shells to the county’s oyster reef program, which bags cleaned shells and places them in the lagoon where oyster larvae cling to the shells and grow up to filter the river water.

Hooked on Music will have six bands on two stages at the city marina and Marina Square on March 26. It’s an afternoon and evening event running from 4-11:30 p.m. Part of the proceeds will go to the Fort Pierce Sunrise Kiwanis Club, which uses the money for the community and its youth.

The A.E. Backus Gallery & Museum hosts the annual All You Should Eat Backus Brunch and Painting Raffle on March 6 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the gallery on North Indian River Drive. Proceeds go to support the gallery.

Dance like Zorba and eat like a Greek at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church annual Greek Festival from March 11-13 this year. The traditional Greek food is done to perfection, the baklava is flaky and sweet, the Greek music and dancing is fun, and the kids will get a glimpse of a fascinating culture. Keep your eyes peeled for other church festivals at the many churches in Fort Pierce too.

The First Highwaymen Heritage Trail Festival in the historical Lincoln Park district on Saturday, Feb. 20, starts at 10 a.m. It features a ribbon-cutting, trolley ride along the trail, art contests and exhibits, musical performances, a kid zone, food trucks, give-aways and more.