Some Things To Do in Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice

Some Things To Do in Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice,
Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash
The Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash enjoyed record-breaking attendance for its 10th anniversary event held at the Venice Airport Festival Grounds March 29-30.

Organizers estimate between 20,000 to 22,000 people attended the free event featuring nationally-acclaimed barbecue competitors vying for a $20,000 purse and the state championship honors as well as concerts by award-winning bluegrass entertainers The Grascals, Flatt Lonesome, and the Lonesome River Band.

“We’re proud to be one of the largest events of this kind in the Southeastern United States and the largest Florida BBQ Association sanctioned event in the state of Florida,” said Don Fisher, founder and organizer of the event, in a statement. “Additionally, our exit survey revealed that 93 percent of attendees gave us an excellent or good rating, 40 percent were from outside the tri-county area and 85 percent said they would be returning next year.”

“Bluegrass and barbecue are a natural fit,” Fisher continued, “and at the end of the day we were able to distribute over $90,000 back to area non-profits this year.”

Since 2010, Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass has distributed over $650,000 to local area non-profits and created an estimated economic impact of over $25,000,000, organizers reported.

Other activities at this year’s Bash included a sporting clays tournament, a cornhole tournament, a classic car and truck show, and public safety exhibits; plus a kid’s corral, and the popular Old Town Saloon.

“We’re amazed at the success the event has had over the first 10 years and are planning to make the event even in better in 2020,” said Fisher, who also thanked everyone who has sponsored, volunteered, participated and attended.

Westcoast Black Theatre
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe was founded in December 1999, as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Our mission has always been to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African-American experience, attracts diverse audiences, supports and develops African-American artists, and builds the self-esteem of African-American youth.

Sharky’s on the Pier in Venice
Just one visit to Sharky’s and you’ll understand why after 33 years and counting, it has become a Venice-area landmark. Voted the Florida’s Best Beach Bar in 2013, 2018 and 2019, soak in the sunshine and dine in relaxed style while sipping a refreshingly cool beverage. Located in the Shark’s Tooth Capital of the world and nestled at the base of the famed Venice Fishing Pier, our beach-front restaurant offers a stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico.

South Venice Florida Beach Ferry
(See a photo gallery of the South Venice Ferry.)

South Venice looks like any another middle-class neighborhood between U.S. 41 and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Its million-dollar view comes courtesy of the South Venice Beach Ferry, which drops local passengers at a blissfully quiet stretch of Manasota Key.

It’s a short ride — four minutes to paradise. Cheap, too.

Ferry members pay $75 a year, or $25 a month, for daily access to clear surf, deserted shore and spectacular shelling. Locals call it the best bargain on the Gulf Coast. Regulars joke about saving the beach for themselves.

“It’s kind of like a secret,” says Jan Fessler. “We don’t want too many people to know about it.”

Fifty years ago, South Venice residents walked to the beach on wooden footbridges that spanned Lemon Bay’s northern tip. When the Intracoastal Waterway was built in the 1960s, residents sued for beach access and wound up with the ferry service.

Pilings from an old bridge stand next to the ferry dock on the Manasota Key bayside. A sign tells the story:

“Thank You, Residents of 1965. Your efforts gave us this ferry. We pledge to preserve South Venice Beach for our children and their children. — South Venice residents, May 9, 1998.”

Many retirees in the neighborhood arrange their lives around daily trips to the beach.

“That’s why I’m here,” says Ilse Ahrens. “That’s why a lot of people are here.”

Jasper Carlton likes to catch the first ferry each morning, when beachcombers can look north and south and see … no one.

“Three miles of natural beach,” Carlton says. “Where else are you going to find this? You could be on a deserted island out here.”

Tim and Kelly O’Brien have four kids who’ve been riding the ferry and visiting the beach since before they were born. Mom sunbathes with her friends. Dad fishes in the surf.

“He won’t go to another beach,” Kelly says. “I can’t pay him to go to another beach.”

Winter crowds

Originally, ferry access was limited to members of the South Venice Civic Association. Now it’s open to the public.

During the winter tourist season, dozens of passengers line up for a short ride to the beach. The ferry only seats 18, so sometimes people have to wait for the next boat.

For South Venice, this is a traffic jam, if not a cause for alarm.

“It was terrible this winter,” Carlton says. “We had a lot of impolite people, a lot of people pushing and crowding. We’re at a point now where we will have to address that.”

Since winter ended, the ferry has been less crowded. No waiting. Lots of enthusiasm for trips out to the beach.

“It’s a great feeling,” Carlton says. “When you walk across that boardwalk, it’s a totally different environment.”

Ferry shellers

Regulars show up early at the ferry dock. They wear swimsuits, sandals and floppy hats. They carry beach bags and homemade scoops for hauling up seashells and fossilized shark teeth.

The most enthusiastic shellers include Joan and June Vollriede, twin sisters who retired to South Venice. Joan came first.

“I looked on an old map, saw the South Venice Ferry and thought, ‘What is that?’” she says. “I loved the area because it’s old Florida and no traffic.”

Alice Moody, an 83-year-old retiree, rides the ferry with her 87-year-old husband Robert.

“Every day,” she says. “Every day the weather’s good. We’ve been coming here for 23 years. We used to ride to the dock on our bikes. We used to look for shark’s teeth, but now we have them all.”

Now the Moodys set their beach chairs in the shade of an Australian pine. Robert leans back and looks down the beach. Alice works the Herald-Tribune crossword puzzle.

On short ferry rides, Capt. Ralph Brown enjoys joking with passengers. A day at the beach puts just about everyone in a good mood.

“I call it getting your sanity back,” Brown says. “People come out here, they’re so stressed you can see it in their faces. When they come back, they’re smiling.”

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