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Date of Issue: February 22, 2007

Cortez fishing festival celebrates 25 years

cortez fest pic
Eric von Hahmann performs with his band during the fishing festival Feb. 17.
cortez fest pic
cortez fest pic
Faith Hope, 11, wears a Florida sunset on her face and Woody Henky, 7, was transformed into a green "Cortezian" by Dawn "Sunshine" Gurtner at the 25th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. The two-day festival featured a celebration in food, music, dance, display and tours of Cortez's nautical heritage. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff and Paul Roat

"Let's rock and reel,"shouted Mary Stein, 49, as she hoisted a cup of beer and danced before the stage at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival Feb. 17.

Stein and her friends attend each year, driving down from Tampa for the two-day event.

"We camp out. I won't say where,"she said.

For the earliest festival, organizers said about 500 people turned out. That number has now grown to about 10,000, most of them paying $2 admission to raise money toward buying land for the FISH Preserve, the development buffer to the east of the village.

This year the festival, held Feb. 17 and 18 on the waterfront and streets of the historic village, marked a 25th anniversary.

Festivalgoers listened to music in a variety of flavors - jazz and blue grass, country and rock, gospel and polka.

Festivalgoers also feasted, primarily on seafood - oysters, shrimp, grouper, crawfish and mullet, the fish that made Cortez.

Dozens of artists showcased their work - paintings, sculptures, pottery and photographs. And hundreds of festivalgoers left with a new treasure for their home.

Near the entrance to the festival, there was a touch of Mardi Gras merriment. The Anna Maria Island Privateers anchored their motorized ship and tossed beads and silver "coins"to arrivals.

Away from the festival, at homes in the village, some residents celebrated with the crowd and others made some pocket change, selling parking spaces, T-shirts and roasted turkey legs and displaying the close-knit but friendly spirit for which Cortez is known.

"This is the best festival on the West coast,"Stein said. "I mean it."