PANAMA CITY — Friday Fest is dawning on a decade downtown this weekend, and with any anniversary year, the celebration is always bigger.
“It is the start of our 10th year. We have DiVine coming back and some incredible bands,” said Dutch Sanger, executive director of the Downtown Improvement Board, who founded Friday Fest in 2004.
Danielle Renfrow, who has spent three days a week donning a foliage-covered suit at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for the past 13 years, will return for a breath of fresh air on March 1.
“These are my absolute favorite types to perform,” said Renfrow, a DiVine performance artist from Living World Entertainment. “You have kids, older folks, people out eating, listening to music. … It’s so nice to be in an environment where it’s a true surprise. I love doing things in the evening, while it’s the twilight hour.”
Last year’s performance featured Renfrow moving gracefully and slowly up and down four blocks of Harrison Avenue after being transformed into a living vine. Getting into make-up, costume and stilts takes her about 20 minutes.
On Friday, she will perform 6-6:30 p.m. and 7-7:30 p.m., when you might find her wrapping around a lamp post or growing on a brick wall. With the stilts on her arms outstretched to the sky, she can reach more than 20 feet high.
“Lamp posts are my absolute favorite,” Renfrow said. “I have five vines at home; they grow on anything and everything. I have a trellis and pergola in my back yard and use it as inspiration. Vines go well on a brick wall. The small garden park area in downtown had two brick pillars I remember that I could hang on and were good photo opportunities for people.”
She also can transform into an arbor for children to play underneath.
“We try to be very gentle and non-threatening,” said Renfrow, who has a son, 5, and daughter, 7. “I really find very few people who’ve been truly startled by it. Most people are excited to see it. Children can appreciate it as well as adults.”
The kids’ zone with bounce houses also will return from McKenzie Park toward Harrison filling Gateway Park. And for the kid in all of us, there will be kettle corn sold on the street in front of Willows British Tea Room.
Restaurants will stay open until 8 p.m. or later, with take-out available for eating at tables under the tents set up on Harrison. Choices also include Maddie’s La Casita, Sugar Boogers, Tom’s Hot Dogs, The Place, Ferrucci Ristorante, Tito’s, Cassandra’s Place, Millie’s Café and Trigo Deli. With more than 60 vendors, there will be plenty to choose from and look at, even after you check out the 250 classic and show cars on display.
E. Street Café Food Truck, which rolled out for the first time during September’s Friday Fest, will be back.
“I’m excited; a lot didn’t know who we were when we first came out last year. It will be a lot different now that the word’s out,” said Yi Lynne Weber, owner and operator. She has since garnered a following throughout Panama City for her global comfort food during weekday lunches. Korean Tacos are always on the menu.
“The Korean Tacos are definitely the most popular, then the Fried Green Tomato BLT,” she said.
Her Friday Fest menu also will include grilled chicken roll-ups, pork chop sandwich and a daily special, either jerk chicken sandwich or a fish taco sandwich. She also will be serving up her latest treat: sweet potato tots.
“I just rolled those out two weeks ago, sweet potato tots rolled in brown butter sage powder,” Weber said.
Randy Bevis of J.R.’s Rib Shack, which has locations on State 77 and Star Avenue, has participated in Friday Fest since the beginning.
“I was one of the few that came downtown when it first happened and stuck it out,” said Bevis, a Panama City native. “Now it’s the best event in Bay County, hands down. … I just think it’s a good place to see somebody you haven’t seen in years, and with 10,000 people, you are going to run into people.”
For Friday Fest, J.R.’s serves chicken and ribs, pork, barbecue chicken and sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs from its trailer.
“Our best seller is the pork sandwich; we sell a couple hundred of those. Ribs are No. 2,” said Bevis, who celebrates 17 years in the business next week.
Gulf Talent Services, which also has been with Friday Fest since its inception, continues to bring in the bands. This month’s groups will include the Flip Flop Boys from Tallahassee, Latitude 29 and Tony Vegas.
If you didn’t get enough real steel during World Sword Swallowers Day, the Society for Creative Anachronism is returning to Friday Fest for sword fight demonstrations. Adults and children can step into the fencing ring, after meeting with the safety marshal or instructor, and use the blunted steel swords to “stab” instructors. Instructors often pretend to be injured, making it a game for the children.
What: Street festival with live bands, food trucks, vendors, classic and show cars, kids’ zone, extended store and restaurant hours
When: 6-10 p.m. first Fridays, March through November
Where: Six blocks along Harrison Avenue (between Sixth Street, Beach Drive and McKenzie Park) in downtown Panama City
Details: (850) 785-2554 or PCFridayFest.com