New Year brings Florida’s Festival Season

LAKE OKEECHOBEE AREA — The new year, 2016, brings the annual events that celebrate Florida’s unique history and culture. These time-honored traditions are part of the state’s heritage, and give newcomers a chance to learn a little about the Sunshine State.

Many festivals honor or feature a local food. LaBelle’s Swamp Cabbage Festival reminds visitors that the early pioneers learned to live off the land, cooking the heart of the Cabbage Palm (or Sabal Palm) tree like cabbage.
Okeechobee’s Speckled Perch Festival promotes Okeechobee’s self-proclaimed status as “Speckled Perch Capital of the World.” But don’t expect to find Speckled Perch on the menu at the fish fry in Flagler Park.

Since Speckled Perch is not commercially harvested, it is illegal to serve it at public events.

Festivals such as the Black Gold Jubilee and the Plant City Strawberry Festival are harvest festivals. While fall is harvest season up north, Spring is the time for the Florida harvest.

Whether your idea of fun is listening to a bluegrass band, cheering for rodeo bull riders or jumping out of an airplane, you’ll find it at a South Florida festival.


The 42nd Annual Stuart Boat Show is set for three marinas on Jan. 15, 16 and 17 off of Dixie Highway in Stuart, north of the Roosevelt Bridge. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Hundreds of different boat brands and models will be represented at the show, including the latest models of motor yachts, cruisers, trawlers, skiffs, speedboats, sport fishing boats, and pontoons. Boats range from 12 feet to over 100 feet in length and are priced from thousands of dollars to millions.

Where else can you kick off your shoes and step aboard the luxury million dollar yachts? Visitors also will see the latest in personal watercraft, marine electronics, outboard and inline engines, boating equipment and accessories, boat lifts, fishing gear, nautical clothing and jewelry, as well as financing and insurance companies. The miss Geico racing team and race boat will be there along with the “Throttle Man.” The Fisherman’s Village, an area devoted exclusively to fishing makes its return this year. Come enjoy the new food court area! Complete with fishing seminar clinics for the kids with rod and reel and give-a-ways for the children who participate. General admission is only $12 for adults, Kids over 10 are $5, Seniors and veterans are $10 and children under 10 years old are free. Parking with water taxi and shuttle service is available. For more information on the show, please call 954-522-5288 or visit

Pigfest, a Central Florida BBQ festival, will be held Jan. 8 and 9 at Fireman’s Field, 781 Magnolia Ave., in Sebring. Enjoy LIVE Music, a BBQ Contest, YMCA Fire 5K Run, classic cars and more. Admission is free. The event will feature a First Responders Competition in two meat categories (ribs and chicken). The People‘s choice takes place on Saturday. There will be live entertainment both days. The California Toe Jam Band will perform Friday from 6-9 p.m. and Bob Weed will DJ the “oldies” on Saturday. The third annual Y Fire 5K run is Saturday at 8 a.m. For more information, call 863-382-9622. For information on the classic car show, call 863-382-2255.

The South Florida Fair will be held Jan. 15 – 31 in West Palm Beach. The fair includes the traditional livestock exhibits, carnival midway, concerts and special attractions. Gates open at 11:30 a.m. For more information, call 561-793-0333 or go online to

The 12th annual U.S. Sport Aviation Expo will be Jan. 20 – 23 at the Sebring Regional Airport. Gates open at 8 a.m. Exhibits open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Expo is the place to see, try, buy and sell Light Sport Aircraft. This event brings prospective business clients from all over the world. Open to the public, it provides a variety of activities for the entire family, including educational exhibits, booths, Flight of Fantasy tethered balloon rides, AVBIDS auction, prizes and daily forums that showcase aviation professionals and speakers. Admission for adults is $20 a day, kids 10 and up are $18 a day and kids 10 and under are free. To learn more about the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, visit or call 863-655-6444.

The 60th Annual Okeechobee American Legion Free Fair, will be held at the American Legion Hall grounds on Jan. 28 – Feb. 7 at State Road 70 East in downtown Okeechobee. J & J Amusements will provide the carnival rides. The midway will open at 5 p.m. weekdays. On Saturdays the midway will open at noon and Sundays it will open at 1 p.m. Kids day will be Feb. 3. Miss American Legion day is Feb. 4.

The Riverdale Kiwanis Medieval Faire will be held Jan. 16-17 and Jan. 23-24 from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. at Lakes Regional Park in Fort Myers. Adults are $15. Kids age 11-5 are $5 and kids 5 and under are free. Parking is free. For more information, go to

The 22nd Annual Yee Haw Junction Bluegrass Festival will be held Jan. 21-23 in Okeechobee County. This unique bluegrass festival will be held at the Agri-Civic Center in Okeechobee. Bluegrass music is held under the big top tent and will go on rain or shine. Spectator entrance is 4601 State Road 710 in Okeechobee County. For more information online, go to Tickets are currently on sale and can be ordered through

Skydive Air Adventures will host the annual skydiving festival commonly referred to in the sport as a the “Everglades Boogie” Jan. 22-24, at the Airglades Airport in Clewiston. Skydivers will have the opportunity to jump out of all kinds of aircraft like a De Havilland Otter, a Sky Van, a King Air, and a helicopter. In addition to jumping out of different types of aircraft, skydivers will have a unique opportunity to do high-altitude jumps from 22,000 ft. on Saturday and Sunday. There will be nightly entertainment with live bands and DJs, vendors, food, and even a bounce house for the kids. For details on fees or other information, call 800-533-6151 or go online to

Top of the Lake Art Festival in Okeechobee, Sand Art

Top of the Lake Art Festival in Okeechobee, Sand Art from 2015

The 2016 Top of the Lake Art Festival is scheduled for Jan. 23 and 24 in Flagler Park in downtown Okeechobee. The main event will be a juried fine art show with a competition for student artists. Artists from throughout the state are welcome to participate. Anyone interested in competing should contact the Okeechobee Main Street office at 863-357-6246 for an application. This year will again feature the “Chalk Walk” which will include street painters using a chalk medium. Chalk artists interested in participating should also contact the number above. For the second year, the festival will include the Taste of Okeechobee on Jan. 23. For additional information and applications, go online to

The 24th annual Buckhead Ridge Catfish Festival will be held Jan. 30 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Buckhead Ridge Volunteer Fire Department on State Road 78. The festival features fried catfish dinners, using Fire Chief John Wilkinson’s own recipe. The VFD Ladies Auxiliary will also sell hot dogs and other treats. Visitors will be entertained by local bands. Arts and crafts will be for sale at the vendor booths. The annual event raises money for equipment and training for the BHR Volunteer Fire Department. For information on reserving a booth space, or for more information on the festival, call 863-467-8220.

The Glades County Public Library and its Advisory Board invite area artists and craftsmen to exhibit and sell their work at the 11th annual Art in the Park event in Moore Haven on Jan. 30. This popular free event, centered in and around the library, brings artists and the public together in a wonderful setting by the Caloosahatchee River. Painters, sculptors, photographers, and handcrafters are encouraged to contact the library now and reserve their place. Exhibiting and parking are free. Exhibitors are responsible for their own setups. The Glades County Public Library is located in the city park across the street from the river in Moore Haven’s Historic District. The address is 201 Riverside Drive. For more information or to reserve a place, contact Mary Booher, Director of Libraries at 863-946-0744 or

The FTI Winter Equestrian Festival runs every Saturday night from Jan. 13 to April 3, at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington. Be awed and amazed at the magical partnership of horse and rider in the thrills of jumping, the grace of show hunters, the elegance of dressage. Savor the horse sport spectacle while basking in South Florida sunshine or enjoying the glamor under lights this winter and spring. For more information online, go to

Arts of the Inland is pleased to present the fifth Annual Inland Arts Festival at Barron Park in LaBelle on Jan. 30 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Barron Park is located along the Caloosahatchee River on the east side of SR29 at Fort Thompson Road in historic LaBelle. Visual artists, literary artists, and craftsmen will showcase their work for sale. All work must be an original creation, giclee or print of the artist. Food vendors will be on-site and performing artists will entertain in the gazebo throughout the day. For more information, go to

The Lake Placid Art League’s 29th Annual Art and Fine Craft Festival will be held at the Bert J. Harris Agricultural Center, U.S. 27 South in Sebring, on Saturday, Jan. 30, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sixty artists will display their created artwork at this free show that includes paintings in watercolors and oils, jewelry, pottery, metal crafts, wood carving and wood turning, clothing, and children’s books. They are able to meet with visitors on a personal level because of the small intimate setting of the show. Visitors also receive free tickets for donated art for the drawings that occur every thirty minutes throughout the day. They may also purchase food at the Art League food court that includes barbecue chicken, hot dogs, donuts, home baked desserts and beverages.

Sebring International Raceway will host Big Winter Fest on Saturday, Jan. 30, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This outdoor community festival will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast. Admission is $5 per person. The event will feature real snow, a rock wall, live entertainment, video games, laser tag, carnival games, face painting and clowns. For information, call 863-402-9001.

South Florida communities host a variety of Martin Luther King Day observances. Check your local paper for more information on the events for your area. In the Okeechobee area:
On Friday, Jan. 15, at 6 p.m. candle light vigil. Location: in front of First Missionary Baptist Church on the corner of Northwest Ninth Street and Ninth Ave. Everyone invited; please bring a candle or battery powered light.
On Saturday, Jan. 16, at 10 a.m. The MLK Multicultural Parade on the regular parade route. Festival in Flager Park  10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
On Sunday, Jan. 17, at 4 – 7 p.m. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Banquet at Douglas Brown Center.
On Monday, Jan. 18, at 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Basketball Tournament and Recreational Activities at the Douglas Brown Center.
For more information, contact Shirlean Graham at 863-763-2893 or 863-697-6107 email


The Ortona Cane Grinding Festival is traditionally held in February in the Ortona Indian Mound Park, off State Road 78 in Glades County. The festival celebrates the part that sugar cane played in the lives of the early settlers and includes a demonstration of grinding cane with a millstone. Visitors can purchase sugar cane syrup and enjoy barbecue dinners. For more information, see the February edition of GO or go online to

The Lake Placid Fair will be held Feb. 6 and 7 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. About 130 crafters, local clubs/organizations and entertainers gather at DeVane Circle in Lake Placid for two days of fun. Celebrating 50 years, the event will feature crafts, food and entertainment in downtown Lake Placid. Exhibits will be set up at nearby Lake Placid Elementary School. Free parking is available at Lake Placid Elementary and Lake Placid High School with free shuttle vans. For more information, call 863-465-3963, or email

The 15th Annual Hobe Sound Festival of the Arts will be held Feb. 6 and 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 11954 S.E. Dixie Highway, in Hobe Sound. The festival starts at Bridge Road and alternate A1A, continuing south on A1A. Admission and parking are free. The festival will include a juried outdoor art showcase featuring 150 artists from 30 different states. Artists are selected to participate in the festival by an independent panel of expert judges. Artistic media include paintings, sculpture, photography, ceramics, glass, wood, handmade jewelry, collage and mixed media. For more information online, go to

The Florida State Fair will be held Feb. 4 -15 at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. The fair features a carnival midway, business and agriculture exhibitions, livestock shows, equestrian events, competitions for food, art, photography, sewing, woodcarving and horticulture. For more information, call 800-345-3247 or go online to

The Lakeport Sour Orange Festival will be held Feb. 6, at the Lakeport Community Center, 1239 Red Barn Road, State Road 78 between Moore Haven and Okeechobee. A $1 donation is requested for parking. The festival features the traditional sour orange bake off. An arts and crafts fair will feature local vendors. Plate lunches available will include a rib dinner. The festival will also feature a quilt show, a historical display, a photography display, children’s games, a display by the Lakeport Fire Department and sour orange pies. Judging starts at 10 a.m. For information, call Melissa Hines at 863-233-3014. Festival visitors are encouraged to bring their own chairs as seating is limited.

The Hendry County Fair and Livestock Show celebrates local agriculture. The event features a parade, livestock show and midway entertainment. The activities also include a beauty pageant and exhibits. The fair will be held this year from Feb. 12 – 20 at the fairgrounds in Clewiston. For more information, please call 863-983-9282 or go online to

The Highlands County Fair will be held Friday, Feb. 12, through Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Highlands County Fairgrounds, 781 Magnolia Ave. in Sebring. The fairgrounds open from 5 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to midnight on Saturday and 1 to 9 p.m. on Sunday. The Highlands County Fair features tons of exhibits and contests for cooking, photography, horticulture, fine arts, sewing and more! Entertainment includes the Chainsaw Carving Show, Master Hypnotist Show and the Miss, Junior Miss and Little Miss Highlands County Pageants. For more information, call 863-382-2255.

The 78th Brighton Seminole Field Day and Rodeo, set for Feb. 12 – 14, originated in 1938 as a day of sporting events and arts and crafts competitions for members of the Seminole Tribe. William P. Boehmer and his wife Edith – teachers at the original Brighton Day School – originated the festival as a way to bring Seminoles from other reservations together for some friendly competition. Over the years, the event evolved into a festival that is open to the public and showcases Seminole and other Native American arts, crafts, dances and traditions. On Friday, the festival hosts “Kids Day” which is open to area school children. School buses from all over South Florida transport

Seminole Day 2015

Seminole Day 2015

elementary school children to Brighton Reservation, where they learn how Seminoles once lived in chickees, cooked food over open fires, made their own canoes and weapons and made crafts such as sweetgrass baskets and clothing made from tiny pieces of cloth sewn into intricate patterns. The festival also includes wild animal exhibitions, alligator wrestling and native dances. In more recent years, the event expanded to invite Native Americans from all over the country to participate. On Saturday and Sunday, the festival is open to the general public. The festival weekend also includes a rodeo. On Saturday, gates open at 9 a.m. and the rodeo starts at 3 p.m.; on Sunday, gates open at 10 a.m. The festival grounds are next to the Fred Smith Rodeo Arena, off State Road 721, in Glades County. For more information, call 863-467-6039 or go online to

The 50th Annual Swamp Cabbage Festival is set for Feb. 27 and 28. The festival is in LaBelle. The town goes a little wild with a huge parade beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by two days of great entertainment, booths of unique items for sale, a car show and, of course, great food. Look for the boiled swamp cabbage, raw swamp cabbage salad and swamp cabbage fritters. If you have an adventurous palate, you can also find gator meat and other special treats. Saturday begins with a 5K Swamp Stomp run along a lovely route with glimpses of the Caloosahatchee River. The Swamp Cabbage Festival has something for everyone including a bike show, car show, and kiddie rides. On Sunday morning you can take part in nondenominational worship at Barron Park, with entertainment and festivities picking back up again after noon. There is also a fishing tournament and a rodeo. Check out more information at

The Battle of Okeechobee Re-Enactment and Festival,

Battle of Okeechobee re-enactment

Battle of Okeechobee re-enactment

set for Feb. 26, 27 and 28, commemorates the largest and fiercest battle of the Second Seminole War. The original battle was fought Christmas Day, 1837. Part of the original battleground has been preserved as a state park on 3500 S.E. 38th Ave. (off U.S. Highway 441 S.E.) in Okeechobee. Gates open at 9 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. Re-enactments are at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. In addition to re-enactments of the battle, the two-day festival will include alligator wrestling, a living history camp, artisans, Seminole arts, horse rides for the kids and folk music. Entry is $10 per car. For more information online, visit, or call 863-763-2121.


Speckled Perch Festival parade entry in Okeechobee

Speckled Perch Festival parade entry in Okeechobee

The Speckled Perch Festival, sponsored by Okeechobee Main Street, will be held in Flagler Park in downtown Okeechobee on March 12 and 13. The festival starts around 9 a.m. The Speckled Perch Festival Parade will be on Saturday at 10 a.m. Over the years, the festival has grown and changed, adding arts and crafts vendors, games for children and entertainment. Due to state health laws, speckled perch – which is a game fish and not commercially harvested – cannot be served at public events. So the fish dinner served at the Speckle Perch Festival is catfish. For additional information, go online to

The Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Spring Rodeo will be held March 12 and 13, at Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Arena on U.S. 441 N., in Okeechobee. For information online, go to

Okeechobee County Fair midway

Okeechobee County Fair midway

The Okeechobee County Fair will be held March 15 – 20, at the Agri-Civic Center Fairgrounds, with entry at State Road 710. The fair includes a carnival midway, livestock shows, cooking competitions, fruit and vegetable competitions, sewing and arts and crafts competitions. There is even a Lego building competition. The Okeechobee 4-H and FFA Livestock Show will be the week of March 12-19. Small animal judging is March 12; the beef breeding show March 14; lamb and goat, March 15; steers, March 15; swine, March 15; swine showmanship, March 16; and dairy, March 18. The livestock sale will be Saturday, March 19.  Fairgrounds opens at 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, and at noon on Saturday and Sunday. Entertainment will include the Eudora Petting Zoo, Fast Action Motorsports, NOJOE’s Circus, Jurassic Kingdom, Zega the Robot, and Joey’s Bubble Factory. For more information, visit

The Florida Strawberry Festival is set for March 3 – 13 in Plant City from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Guests come from near and far to enjoy exhibits of agriculture, commerce, industry, livestock, fine arts, horticulture and crafts. The fabric of American life is woven into the festival through social events, contests, youth developmental programs, top-name entertainment, and parades with glorious floats and high-stepping marching bands. For more information online, go to

Moore Haven’s Chalo Nitka is one of the state’s oldest continuing festivals. The festival grounds are located in Chalo Nitka Park (across from the Glades County School Board Office). The festival includes midway games, rides, and vendor booths selling food, crafts and jewelry. Events also include a rodeo and the Glades County livestock show. This year the festival is planned for March 4 and 5. For more information online, go to or call 863-946-0300.

The 30th Annual Clewiston Sugar Festival, will be held March 19 in the heart of the city across from the Clewiston Inn and the U.S. Sugar campus. Festival events will include: arts and crafts, food booths, a 5K run/walk, a kids fun park area, Big Lake Cruisers Classic Car Show, the Sweet Taste of Sugar recipe contest, the Raisin’ Cane Rodeo and live entertainment. For more information online, go to

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival music fest logowill be held March 4, 5 and 6 at the Sunshine Grove property in Northeastern Okeechobee County. This three-day event will feature bands from all over such as Mumford and Sons, Kendrick Lamar, and Skrillex. More than 80 bands will perform. For tickets and more information, visit


The 38th Annual Black Gold Jubilee Festival is scheduled for April 16 at the Torry Island Recreation Center in Belle Glade. The event kicks off with a 5K Walk/Run at 7:30 a.m., to be followed by all-day free children’s activities, rides, games, and a dunk tank. For the adults, food booths and arts and craft features the best in local cuisine and art. Rounding out the activities are photography displays, a car show, a volleyball tournament and a corn-eating contest. A fireworks show at dusk caps off the festival. For more information, find the Black Gold Jubilee on Facebook, or contact the Belle Glade Chamber of Commerce at 561-996-2745.

The annual Avon Park Bluegrass Blueberry Festival, sponsored by Avon Park Rotary Club, will be held April 23 at the Rotary Building, 20 S. Verona Ave. in Avon Park. For information, see the web site at

Sunfest, a celebration of music on the waterfront, will be held April 27 – May 1 in downtown West Palm Beach. For more information, go to

The Immokalee Harvest Festival will be April 22, 23 and 24 in downtown Immokalee, starting at noon each day. For more information, got to


MegaCon, the largest comic book, anime, science fiction, fantasy, gaming and multimedia event in the southeastern United States, will take place May 26-29 at the Orange County Convention Center, 9800 International Drive in Orlando. The annual event attracts 50,000 visitors or more – many of them come dressed as a favorite character from a comic book, movie or video game. The convention includes panel discussions and seminars, dance parties, costume contests and more. Visitors can visit Artists Alley to watch comic book artists at work. They can meet stars from movies and television, writers and artists. Event tickets are available on the MegaCon website now. For more information, go to

The Brown Sugar Festival is set for May 7 in Clewiston. The traditional event began with the organization of the Harlem Academy Alumni Association in Clewiston in 1976. The festival and pageant also serve as fundraisers for scholarships to send Clewiston’s Harlem community children to college. Over the years the festival has grown to include a gospel program, a talent show, a cruise trip, a dance, a parade, a basketball tournament, fashion show, a golden age banquet and all-day festivities. For more information online, go to

The DeSoto County Watermelon Festival will be held May 21 in Historic Downtown Arcadia. Festival organizers plan to showcase traditional events such as the wacky river race, bed race, seed spitting contest, and the watermelon pageant. For more information, go to


The Caladium Festival and Car Show will be held July 29 – 31, at Stuart park in Lake Placid. The festival offers bus rides to the caladium fields and displays in nearby subdivisions. For more information online, go to


The Alligator Hatching Festival is held each year at Gatorama, 1066g N. U.S. 27 in Glades County. The festival is usually around the last two weeks in August when baby alligators are hatching. Visitors can watch the eggs hatch; some even get a chance to hold an alligator egg as it hatches. Dates vary – depending on the eggs –  so more specific information is available closer to the event. For more information visit

Henscratch Farms, 980 Henscratch Road in Lake Placid, host an annual Grape Stomp Festival in August. Visitors are invited to “do the Lucy” and help stomp the ripe grapes heaped in big metal tubs. There is also a Lucy Lookalike contest, live music, a walking tour, and a wine and cheese tasting. Visitors can pick their own grapes, which are sold by the pound.


Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 4 – 5, brings Okeechobee’s Annual Labor Day Festival, with an arts and crafts festival in downtown Okeechobee, games for the whole family, a parade on Saturday morning. For more information on the parade and festival, go to


Minimal Regatta in Okeechobee

Minimal Regatta in Okeechobee

The annual Adam Bryant Memorial Minimal Regatta and Festival will be held Oct. 1 at the C. Scott Driver boat ramp on State Road 78 in Okeechobee County. The race contestants make their own boats from one sheet of plywood, a pound of screws, 24 feet of 2” by 4’s and a roll of duct tape. For more information, go to

Downtown Sebring will host Oktoberfest on Saturday, Oct. 1, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Enjoy beer tastings, German Food, and live music throughout the day, along with the Firemantics event, which will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Teams of fire departments from throughout the state compete and showcase their skills with extrication demonstrations, and obstacle course, putting out contained fires and advancing fire houses. For more information, call 863-381-6467.


Okeechobee’s annual Christmas Festival and Lighted Parade will be held Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. in Flagler Park in downtown Okeechobee. For additional information, go online to

For updated information on area festivals and special events, see future editions of G.O.: Going Out – A Guide to Area Entertainment and Attractions, available online at under Special Sections.

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