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Cortez fest nets 27,000 folks

By Lisa Neff, Islander Reporter

This sign greeted folks at the entrance to the Feb. 19-20 Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival at its new location alongside the preserve — the property purchased and supported with festival funding for many years.

Organizers of the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival are still calculating dollars and cents, but the two-day event held Feb. 19-20 drew about 27,000 people.

“All in all, it went beyond our wildest expectations,” said one of the festival organizers, Jane von Hahmann, a former county commissioner and a Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage officer.

The crowd seemed “as large as we have ever seen in the past,” said John Stevely, another organizer. “Many vendors reported they were just about sold out by the end of the festival.”

With $2 admissions and vendor dues, the annual event raises money for FISH, which in turn invests the funds in preserving environmentally sensitive property in the historic fishing village. The FISH Preserve on the north side of Cortez consists of 95 acres of undeveloped mangrove wetlands and uplands.

The 2011 festival moved from the south side of the village to the north side. The event, featuring live music, arts and crafts vendor, fishing and crabbing demonstrations, children’s games and food aplenty, was held at the entrance to the preserve on the Florida Maritime Museum grounds, along 119th Street and on the waterfront.

The menu included smoked mullet, fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, conch fritters, Italian ice, strawberry shortcake, stone crab claws, funnel cakes, jambalaya, turkey legs, corn dogs, sloppy joes, ice cream, chowder, boiled peanuts, grouper and multiple types of shrimp.

The music genres included country, bluegrass, blues, rock and pop.

“The festival location got super reviews, as did the entertainment this year,” said von Hahmann, whose son, country-rock artist Eric von Hahmann, was a featured performer both Feb. 19 and Feb. 20. “I don’t think I have heard a single negative comment from attendees, our vendors or our musicians. Everyone had awesome days with the incredible weather.”

Festivalgoers said they thought the festival offered more vendors, entertainers and space than in years past.

Von Hahmann said she heard festivalgoers say, more than once, “At least I wasn’t having to worry about spilling my beer on someone as I walked.”

Stevely said, “I asked people … if they had been to past festivals and whether they liked the new festival grounds. It is fair to say that it was just about unanimous that they preferred the new venue. The additional space gave everyone a little more room to breathe and enjoy the festival.”

For the volunteers, the festival involved at least three days of work on the grounds, with Feb. 18 as a set-up day.

But the planning began about a year ago.

Just as planning already is beginning fro the 2012 festival.

“We are getting excited now about next year,” von Hahmann said. “Ideas are already flying on how we can improve what we did this year.”

One Response to Cortez fest nets 27,000 folks

  1. Bill Yates says:

    We live in Lakeland and drive over every chance we get. We attended the Cortez Festival for the first time on Saturday. Thoroughly loved it. We definitely will be watching for other Island festivals and anxiously waiting for next year’s Cortez Festival. It was well worth the drive.

    Genevia and Bill Yates

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