TARPON SPRINGS — After the Black Honkeys frontman “Brother” Phil Esposito led his popular bay area party band onto the stage to close out the 2021 Hippiefest, he grabbed the mic and shouted to the colorfully clad crowd, “Tarpon Springs, we sure missed you!”
You could say the feeling was mutual as throngs of patrons, many decked out in tie-dyed T-shirts and paisley pantsuits, packed the Sponge Docks on Aug. 21 for the return of the Tarpon Springs Merchants Association’s most popular annual event, which was canceled last year due to the coronavirus.
Despite the sweltering late summer temperatures attendees began strolling down Dodecanese Boulevard before the event began at 2 p.m., drawn by the psychedelic sights and Summer of Love style fun Hippiefest provides, including a classic VW car show, costume contest and hula-hooping competition.
According to TSMA event coordinator Carol Rodriguez, the much-anticipated return of Hippiefest represented a much-needed boon for local businesses, although she noted attendance was off from 2019.
“It was great to have Hippiefest back,” Rodriguez said a few days after spending most of the past two weeks planning, coordinating and policing the event. It featured dozens of vendors and vehicles.
“We had about 20 percent less people than in 2019 due to the heat and COVID, but the people who came had a great time, the event was a huge success and the city the police did an amazing job, as usual.”
Down the street Wine on the Docks owner Rea Sieber, a former merchants association president who helped found Hippiefest, said the return of the event was great for beleaguered local business owners.
“Hippiefest is always one of our most popular events,” Sieber said as groups of customers rolled into and out of the shop in waves. “We started it ten years ago in August to coincide with Woodstock and I know many were happy to see the event back this year since it was canceled last year.”
As the blisteringly hot day turned into a more tolerable summer night, a boisterous crowd gathered in front of the stage opposite the Sponge Exchange to watch local favorite Shevonne and the Force play stirring renditions of songs by Prince, Janice Joplin and more. The Black Honkeys then sent the group into a frenzy with their eclectic collection of funky, R&B crowd favorites, including Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” and Chicago’s classic, “Beginnings.”
“Thank you, Tarpon Springs!” Esposito said after the band finished an encore following a 90-minute set, and the crowd quickly dispersed as he exited the stage, the hula hoops and metal peace signs being packed away for another day.