VENICE – The Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash will not return to the Venice Airport Festival Fairgrounds in March.
Don Fisher, founder and chairman of the popular festival that helps fund the Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children, broke the news in a prepared statement Monday.
“It is with great sadness and disappointment that I must inform you that our 11th annual Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash will not be held at the Venice Airport Festival Grounds in March of 2021,” Fisher wrote. “This was not an easy decision, but given the current backdrop of COVID-19, the City of Venice current moratorium on large special events and the uncertainty of the country’s future, we felt this was the best course of action.”
The fundraiser combines champion barbecue pitmasters and entertainment from nationally known bluegrass musicians.
This marks the second straight year that COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of the festival.
When it was last held, in March 2019 on the 10th anniversary of the festival, it enjoyed record-breaking attendance of between 20,000 and 22,000 people.
The largest Florida BBQ Association-sanctioned events, and one of the largest events of its type in the Southeastern United States, the Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash has distributed more than $650,000 to local area nonprofits through the Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children and has created an estimated economic impact of more than $25,000,000.
The Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children owns and maintains facilities for a variety of nonprofits that annually serve more than 8,000 people in Sarasota County with special needs: Special Olympics, The Florida Center, Community Haven, Children’s First and the Loveland Center.
In 2019, the festival generated more than $90,000 for those local nonprofits.
“We waited as long as we could to make this decision in hopes that some of the obstacles would be resolved,” Fisher wrote. “It is our sincere hope we will be able to return to the original agenda in the future.”
The city of Venice is only now issuing permits for special events on a trial basis.
The first approved events involve Venice MainStreet-hosted Friday night concerts at the Centennial Park Gazebo.
The first of those, a concert by the Cryin’ Shames, is scheduled for Friday; one is scheduled for Friday, depending on the path of Tropical Storm Eta.
Fisher added that the foundation is in the process of developing some safe and fun events, with an announcement of those plans coming as soon as they are available.