McGinnes has been a Florida Strawberry Festival director since 1998 and is its current chairman of the board.
What’s your earliest memory of the festival?
I was in the baby parade. That was back when dinosaurs were on the earth.
What’s your role with the festival these days?
I’m chairman and this is my second year as chairman of the board… when you’re in the chairman role, you get to see parts of the festival that you really don’t get to see under normal circumstances. It’s really been cool to see how passionate everybody is in their own area of responsibility. Everybody has found a niche that they are passionate about.
What’s your favorite memory from the festival?
The one that comes to mind is the Oak Ridge Boys. It was in 1982, the year they first came. Elvira hit the charts in 1981 and they were at the festival in 1982. I was not a director at that time. I didn’t have tickets to the show. A friend of mine called and said he had two tickets to the show… he came by, picked me up, we go out to the festival, he had reserved seats and we went down in front. I had never sat that close to a stage before. They came out and it was the best show I have ever seen. I was blown away and they ended it with Elvira. I think I lost control. To this day, it comes up in conversation with them.
Who do you like to bring to the festival?
My whole family is out there most every day, all day. My sister likes to visit once a year to come see a show, and there are my nieces and nephews, but my family is pretty much all ingrained.
What do you enjoy most about the festival?
Seeing everybody. You see your friends, but you also see people you haven’t seen since the last festival or you have people like some of my friends I went to school with who moved away. Typically this is a good time to come back to the hometown. It’s just great and it’s an atmosphere where you can enjoy being with your friends. It makes it easy with all the food, entertainment, all that’s going on. It’s a fun time to share with people. Uniquely with me, some of these acts we have most every year, it’s good to see them. They’re part of our family, too. The vendors, you get to know them. The exhibitors, it’s like an extended family. That’s what really makes it. The venue is a venue — it’s the people, atmosphere and culture that really makes a difference. And we have roughly 2,000 volunteers that take the time to work the festival. They’re passionate people. I know people who take their vacation to work at the festival as volunteers. I enjoy being around them while they’re doing their thing. They’re the core of what we do. We couldn’t do it without them.
What do people from out of town ask you most often?
Besides where the restrooms are, they of course want to know where the strawberry shortcake is. They want to know where the free entertainment tents are and where the shortcake booths are.
What’s your favorite thing to do at the festival every year?
Being with my friends and catching up, all of that.
Which show or event are you most looking forward to this year?
I am really looking forward to the stadium venue. We’re not gonna have the main stage acts, but there’s gonna be a stage on the ground right up by the main stage and we’re gonna have two 40×40 tents set up with picnic tables, socially distanced seating and free entertainment going the whole time. At night, it’s gonna be really special. We’ve got some neat acts and a different type of music every night. There will be a community talent show that Dark Horse Music set up for us… it’s gonna be a big deal. It’s gonna be fun. In lieu of having that big name entertainment, I’m really interested to see how that works inside the stadium.
What’s your favorite thing to eat at the festival?
I’ve got to go get a chicken pita sandwich and those steak tips. You can’t get better than that. And of course you’ve got to do the strawberry shortcake. I walk a lot and I’m covering so much ground it’s a good thing. I’d put five or six pounds on. I can’t even pass the ice cream place… it just kind of all blends together. You put me around food and around friends, I’m a happy guy.
Which eating contest would you try?
If I had to, it would be strawberry shortcake. Any given day, I can eat a strawberry shortcake pretty fast when I’m hungry. I wouldn’t win, but I think I’d be proud of how I’d do.
If you had to convince a total stranger to go to the festival, what would you tell them?
There is really something for everybody, from the entertainment to food, the vendors, the midway… no matter what, there is something at the festival you will enjoy and when you mesh all those things together, it’s special. And I think the difference is the culture of the festival. It’s a family atmosphere and we do all that we can to make it a venue that’s family-friendly. There’s no alcohol on the grounds. People are surprised when we tell them we don’t have it on the festival grounds and they begin to understand we try to make it a safe place for families to come and not worry about people getting out of control. I think we’ve been blessed because of that. I really, truly do. I think it exemplifies the culture of our town and our community.