IF YOU GO
Why: Bonita Springs 13th birthday or 13th anniversary as a city
Who: Tanya Tucker, a Grammy-award winning legend, and Casey Weston, the Naples native who appeared on the TV show “The Voice,” as well as up and coming local musicians to include Jay Front and 100 Proof
Where: Riverside Park, 10450 Reynolds St., Bonita Springs
When: 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 31
What else: Cornhole tournament, laser tag, bounce houses, rides, art and several other games and activities
BONITA SPRINGS — Bonita Springs is known for throwing one of the biggest birthday bashes in Southwest Florida— and everyone is welcome.
Celebrating its 13th year as a city, the 2012 Celebrate Bonita Festival is going country with two big country voices, including Tanya Tucker and Casey Weston, a Naples native returning to the festival as a star after appearing on NBC’s “The Voice.”
“This really gives us a chance to show off our city,” said Bonita Springs mayor Ben Nelson. “It’s free—not many concerts like this, not many city parties are free.”
The festival is 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday at Riverside Park on Old U.S. 41 and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Local musicians, including Jay Frost and 100 Proof, will also take to the stage playing country and southern rock.
The music lineup, which isn’t the only draw, but is a great one, is expected to bring a wide range of ages with Tanya Tucker being a Grammy-award winning legend and Casey Weston, who drew quite an audience at previous Celebrate Bonita events before reaching stardom, organizers said.
“Tanya Tucker, that’s really cool,” said Nelson. “She looks great. She sounds great. She’s one of those names people know all over the U.S., from rock to country western. It’s phenomenal... and Casey is just like one of our own. It’s really awesome to have her here for our birthday.”
Had Casey Weston won the competition on “The Voice,” there’s a good chance the city couldn’t afford her anymore, event organizers said.
And despite a shrinking party budget, Celebrate Bonita continues in large part due to community pride, said Becky Pomerson, chairwoman of the special events committee.
“This is our payback to the citizens who put a lot of work into bringing businesses, guests, people to buy in the city, whether a home or just shopping and dining out. They are trying to make the city successful and we’re trying to give back,” Pomerson said.
She expects a crowd of about 8,000 people to this year’s event, based on an annual crowd that ranges from 7,000 to 9,000, she said.
The budget- which once was $82,000- is now about $62,000 for this years event, said Bonita Springs spokeswoman Lora Taylor. Taylor added that in-kind and private sponsors helped raise the funds.
“We get a lot of support from the people. This is everybody helping everybody,” said Pomerson.
Proceeds from the event, which come from the sale of items including food and beverages, go to the Bonita Springs Assistance Office. The nonprofit organization founded in the 70s offers help to people who are suffering temporary financial strains in making their rent, obtaining medical assistance and other essential needs.
But above all, Celebrate Bonita is an event for families. The festival will boast a large children’s activity area, with entertainment including laser tag, bounce houses, rides and several games. There will also be a cornhole tournament.
Original artwork will be displayed throughout the park.
The Center for the Arts of Bonita Springs is sponsoring a competitive street art project for local students showcasing their art as part of a fundraiser for “Art in Public Places.”
Bonita Springs sense of community is one that predates its formal city-hood, Pomerson said.
One example is the annual “Sammy the Snook” contest, which started in the 1960s. The winner of the scavenger hunt, which had about 150 participants working with five clues to search for a rendition of the legal size evasive fish that has become the city’s mascot, will be announced Saturday.
“This day in age, there are so many negatives out there. This (Celebrate Bonita) is a great way for kids and adults to enjoy themselves not thinking about things. It’s great to have something nice to go to that you don’t have to pay through the nose for,” said Pomerson.
Celebrate Bonita is about community pride, organizers said.
One city accomplishment being celebrated is located right next to the event. Depot Park was completed this past year and is a natural playground located by Riverside Park. It offers a rare chance in Florida for children to run up hills and jump over logs.
“There is so much to celebrate,” said Bonita Springs councilwoman Martha Simons.