BROOKSVILLE — A typical weekend in downtown Brooksville — with the exception of an occasional farmers market — is quiet, with many of the businesses closed and few people walking the sidewalks.
That will not be the case this weekend.
Instead, artwork will be set up beneath a canopy of live oaks. Streets will be lined with scores of vendors selling blueberry-infused treats. Jugglers and other entertainers will be pleasing the crowds as music fills the air. The laughter and squeals of children will be heard from a large kids zone with numerous activities, including an "ice" skating rink and a three-story climbing wall.
As many as 60,000 visitors from across the state and beyond are expected to converge on Brooksville when the sixth annual Florida Blueberry Festival kicks off Saturday for two days of fun.
In the center of it all will be the Urban Slide, a mammoth slip-and-slide that will take riders 1,000 feet down a hilly street.
"The Urban Slide was very popular last year," said festival director Michael Heard. "We had to bring it back."
Riders, who must be at least 44 inches tall, will slide down on inner tubes. Changing rooms will be available so participants can change in and out of their bathing suits.
Entertainment will be on two stages. The Star Stage, in Hernando Park, will feature music Saturday, with groups such as Magic Bus, Blues Bayeux and the Greg Billings Band, with headliner Headgames, a Foreigner tribute band. The Courthouse Stage will offer entertainment throughout the weekend, including the Blue Skye Pipe and Drum Band, the Euphoria Emporium Jam Band, the Nerdy Noah Show and belly dancers.
"There really is something for everyone," Heard said. "We try to introduce something new each year."
The event will include 250 exhibitors, artisans and food vendors; a juried art show; plein air artists; car and truck shows; a wine bar; a beer garden, and the Blueberry Kids Zone, which this year will feature Curious George. And there will be lots of blueberries — from fresh blueberries to blueberry pie and cakes to blueberry wine.
This year will also feature a kickoff event Friday evening at Saxon Manor. The Victorian Epicurean Tasting Event will be from 7 to 9 p.m. and will include a memento glass, hors d'oeuvres and tastings of craft beer, wine and vodka. A limited number of tickets are available for $50, with proceeds benefiting the Brooksville Main Street program.
The Florida Blueberry Festival is a private, nonprofit event sponsored by the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, which moved its home base to Brooksville last year. The organization has a membership that spans 17 counties, from Alachua to Sarasota.
"The festival has a vast number of regional and local supporters, along with a dedicated community and civic group volunteer base," Heard said.
Earlier this year, the city of Brooksville approved a 40-year lease of a portion of the former Quarry Golf Course property to the Florida Blueberry Festival. Although the master plan has yet to be developed, the lease could potentially allow the development of a convention center, concert hall, visitor center or other facilities.
"We are hoping to be in our new location by the spring of 2019," Heard said. "The project will not be done in its entirety, but far enough along to create an incredible venue."