Decorating Christmas trees and baking delicious cookies aren’t the only holiday traditions on Cape Coral resident Deanna Mather’s calendar. She and her husband John arrived in Plant City last Friday at 6:30 a.m. to set up their tent for a six-night campout.
They didn’t set up their tent in an official campground but in front of the Florida Strawberry Festival’s ticket booth. The festival’s concert tickets go on sale Thurs., Dec. 8 at 8 a.m. and they wanted to make sure they could snag front-row seats for some of the performances.
“This is one of our traditions since we come up here every year,’ said Mather. This year’s campout for tickets holds extra-special meaning. She normally doesn’t arrive as early as she did but her longtime friend Melissa McCorkle wanted to be the first in line for tickets this year. McCorkle passed away in October from a brain aneurysm. “We normally don’t show up until Monday but we got here early so I could honor her wish,” said Mather.
An empty chair sits near her tent in honor of her memory. “We all miss her,” she said.
Mather is here to score tickets to see The Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker, Neal McCoy and The Gatlin Brothers.
Mather wasn’t the only one waiting on tickets with a story to tell. Plant City resident Tammy Chancey, a Realtor with Team Chancey LPT Realty, was fourth in line and hoping to snag tickets to see Walker Hayes and CeCe Winans. Chancey and her aunt Laurie Hill were both in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit at the same time last year. Hill passed away but the last text she sent Chancey had a link to Winans’ video of her hit “Believe For It” and a message that she loved that song, whose inspirational words share a hope in Christ. “I’m going to bring her picture with me and we’ll watch the show together,” she said.
Other s in line included Plant City residents Donna Elliott and Jessica McDaniel, who’ve made camping out for tickets an annual ritual for more than a decade. Elliott has family coming in from St. Louis to attend the festival. She purchases tickets to give to her grandchildren as Christmas gifts. She hopes to see Willie Nelson and Lynyrd Skynyrd. “This is my Black Friday shopping,” she joked. McDaniel said she’ll purchase tickets to eight shows but is especially interested in tickets to see Lynyrd Skynyrd. Her son wants to see Chris “Ludacris” Bridges.
“People think we’re crazy but this is fun and we make friends here,” said Mather, whose tent is decked out with a large blowup mattress and cozy blankets.
Locals support the small band of devoted fans. The group shouted for joy when a truck hauling a porta-potty showed up Friday night. An extension cord run from an outlet powers their cellphones and other electronics. Strangers show up bearing food from local restaurants like Fred’s and Chick-fil-A. They spend their days talking, playing games and watching videos on their phones.
The small group of stalwart fans will have their makeshift campsites town down before tickets go on sale at 8 a.m.. What are they going to do after they purchase the concert tickets they want? “We’re gonna go home, eat, shower and sleep,” they all said in unison.