Young and old celebrate food, commercial fishing lifestyle
The boy in the plaid shirt and Houston Texans cap squatted, 10 tickets in hand, as he waited in line for the bungee jump.
Ty Johnston was patient.
“Are you ready?” asked his father Mark Johnston.
Ty shook his head.
Minutes later, he was flying about 20 feet high, his face crinkly with delight. Afterward, son and father did their old routine — high five, fist bump, elbow bump and finally Ty saying, “That’s what I’m talking about.”
The bungee jump was just a side show at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival Feb. 20-21, an annual celebration of the fishing way of life in the historic village.
The festival began 28 years ago and raises money to help the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage preserve 100 acres on the east edge of the village.
The two-day festival, held in the heart of the village, featured an array of seafood, non-profit booths, art, music and more. It drew an estimated 12,000-15,000 people Saturday and 10,000-12,000 Sunday.
“It went pretty well, there were no major glitches,” FISH board member Roger Allen said. “And I think all the vendors had pretty successful days. I was hearing of record sales for Saturday, which is pretty astonishing, actually. Of course, the weather was just about perfect.”
Parking was perhaps the only problem. A few driveways off Cortez Road were blocked. A couple cars were stuck in mud. Some Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies helping with the event said not enough people used the remote parking at Coquina Beach, where a shuttle made runs to the festival for $1.25.
Some, such as Cortez resident Randy Rhoden, made some bucks off parking. The large lots around his house are five blocks east of the festival. Rhoden charged $10 per car for parking. He said the proceeds will help friend Matt Bryan, a Bradenton resident, pay for insurance for his first car.
On Feb. 20, in the Sunny Shores parking lot, Matt Braselton used his 260-pound weight to help free a car that was stuck in a mud hole. Traffic was held up in the morning until Braselton helped out the stranger, Sam Solie.
“We had to push it back and forth,” Braselton said. “With enough Copenhagen, I was finally able to get it out.”
Braselton then helped friend Tondra Dunlap celebrate her 26th birthday with cocktails and seafood.
A trio from Pennsylvania, Joan Lewis, Chris Wolfe and Nellie Longo, had been in Cortez less than 24 hours when they were standing in awe of the rows of thick signs that lined the streets, advertising cinnamon rolls, crabs, clams, shrimp, fish, scallops, calamari, frog legs, oysters, gumbo, fritters, cheeseburgers, chicken sticks, ribs, lamb gyros, gator bites, crawfish, hush puppies, collard greens, cinnamon roasted almonds and funnel cakes.
“I’ve never seen so many delicious-looking meals,” Wolfe said.
There were also old boats, cottages and homes that represent Old Florida, as well as photographs in the museum that allow a peek into the village past when it was settled by families in the late 1800s. Many descendents of those first families still reside in Cortez.
The music of the Richard Culbreath Group symbolized some of that history. The Culbreath Group has been playing its laid-back, folk music since the first year of the festival. Also performing were the Crackerbillys, Sunshine Express Cloggers, and Soul R Coaster, which delivered oldies, as well as recent pop hits.
Finally, the festival allowed the community to come together in all ages and celebrate the commercial fishing lifestyle.
Marlene and Randy Nolte said they have been attending the festival for 17 years.
“We know we’re going to see certain people every time we come here,” Randy Nolte said.
Lots of folks come to meet up and visit with old friends.
Marlene Nolte comes for the art, music and, like many, the food.
“I come for the oysters in the half shell,” Marlene said. “I eat about a dozen every time. They’re the freshest and the best.”