It seems like just about every time you turn around, there’s another festival or event somewhere around Jacksonville or nearby. While some, like the Opening of the Beaches, get more attention than others, each has its own appeal. The beaches communities cut back on some of the events over the past couple of years, but there are still plenty of fun, interesting, and free things to do, if you know where to look.
One of the first signs of spring at the beach is “Springin’ The Blues”, a weekend of free music at a bandshell on the ocean in the heart of Jacksonville Beach. The festival has been going on for years, sponsored by Georges Music down on south 3rd street, and my music store of choice. This year, there was a potential conflict between “Springin’ the Blues” and the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, until the city capitulated and moved the Jazz Fest down the calendar a bit. It’s always fun to head down to the beach and listen to great blues, and the price is right. You CAN buy premium seats right down front … but it’s not necessary for a great experience. The 2010 event is set for April 9-11.
In May, it’s “Dancin’ in the Streets” at Town Center in Atlantic and Neptune Beaches. An event that began as a spring street party for local merchants and restaurants has grown to a full-blown art fair, closing off the end of Atlantic Boulevard and much of 1st Street in Town Center. Thousands now come from all over the area to enjoy live music, food from local establishments, and a wide variety of local and regional arts and crafts. It’s also the kind of event that makes me glad I live close enough to ride my bike up to Town Center rather than trying to find a place to park the car.
We do occasionally cross the ditch for a festival or event downtown, and one that is worth the trip is the annual gathering of tall ships in Downtown Jacksonville on the St. Johns River. One of the principal attractions of the event this year was an exact replica of HMS Bounty, of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame. The ship was re-created from original plans, but of course has a few modern modifications … like an auxiliary engine. No matter how many times I do, it’s always surprising to me to see the conditions under which people lived to cross oceans not so long ago. Cramped cabins for the officers, common sleeping areas with hammocks for the crew, and the descriptions of life on board are at the same time romantic and dismal. Still, it would be a great adventure to be able to sail on a ship such as this, and I don’t know of anyone with an affinity for sailboats who doesn’t feel that way.
There are dozens of smaller art shows and such throughout the year as well. One that drew our attention this year was “Art in the Park”, specifically Johansen Park in Atlantic Beach on Seminole Road. A juried show that draws local and regional artists, I was particularly taken with this very realistic fish carved from a piece of wood. There were other examples of paining, photography, and primitive pottery on display for the weekend, and again, it was a pleasure to be able to bicycle up to the park. It is pretty much the best way to get around out here at the beach.
Up the coast at Amelia Island is the annual Shrimp Festival, also known as the Isle of 8 Flags festival. There is, again, a collection of artists and artisans, but this one takes up the entirety of the historic district of Amelia Island. Originally built on the shoulders of a thriving shrimp industry at Amelia Island, the event has taken on more of an arts festival flavor as the shrimping business has declined. But still, the food vendors and local eateries seem to manage to put out an abundance of shrimp, locally caught, of course. We drove all the way to St. Mary’s Georgia and rode the ferry down to Amelia Island in an effort to avoid the parking hassles. It was worth it.
I went to more airshows this year than I have in a long, long time. Most of them were for work with Aero-News, but the Cecil show was just for fun. I love to watch airplanes fly almost as much as I enjoy being in one that’s flying. The precision demonstrated by the pilots in a team like the Aeroshell Acrobatic team here is just spectacular, and if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to have an airplane under your hands, you know just how challenging that can be.
At Oshkosh, experimental, home-built, sport airplanes, and warbirds all share the stage with GA airplanes of every stripe, bizjets, and the occasional airliner. Oshkosh was 9 days of frantic writing and not enough time spent out amongst the airplanes, but maybe next year there’ll be more time for the latter. But it is one of the few places where you can get a glimpse of both the smallest ultralight airplane to the largest Airbus A380 within a few acres. More pictures next year, and that’s a promise.
For all of its challenges, 2009 could have been worse. What it required was staying close to home and finding the simpler pleasures that are then for the asking. We live in a place that many people consider a vacation destination. So why not take advantage of what the region has to offer?
Why not indeed.