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Florida's Top 10 Summer Events and Festivals: From Key West to Miami
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Florida's Top 10 Summer Events and Festivals: From Key West to Miami

Picture of Huw Fullerton
Updated: 9 February 2017
Florida may be known for Disney World and its large retiree population, but those stereotypes belie the throbbing cultural hub that the state has become over the years. From theatre to concerts, art to cinema, the summer months in Florida are for more than just sunbathing – look below to see just what people are missing out on when all they do is stretch themselves out on a beach.
© Christian Lambert/Flickr
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Theatre | International Hispanic Theatre Festival of Miami

10 – 27 July

Some of the best theatre companies from around the world, including Latin America, Europe and the United States, make it to this celebration of Hispanic theatre every year at the Adrienne Arsht Center. Organised by theatre company Teatro Avante, this year the International Hispanic Theatre Festival commemorates Argentina, and its many contributions to Latin American culture and society over the years. Productions include Caligula: The musical, La Conducta de la Vida (The Conduct of Life), Arizona and Volvio una Noche (She Returned One Night). Most of the productions are in Spanish or Portuguese, but the beauty of the drama shines through and there are resources in place for other languages.

International Hispanic Theatre Festival of Miami, Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL, USA, +1 305 949 6722

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Music | Thunder on the Ridge

4 July

Jazz trumpeter and big-time recording artist Michael Ray tops the bill of a lively concert lineup at Thunder on the Ridge, also including acts as varied as Jill’s Cashbox, Aubrey Wollett, Cross Traxx and Justin Grimes before finishing with a spectacular fireworks display, the largest in all of Polk county. 30,000 people from the local area and beyond come to take part in the festivities, games and craft and community booths scattered throughout the festival. And with a beer garden and a wide array of food tents available to be slipped in and out of in between the acts, any music lovers will be able to keep themselves refreshed throughout the programme.

Thunder on the Ridge, Lake Eva Community Park, 555 Ledwith Ave, Haines City, FL, USA, +1 863 421 3700

Helen van Meene
Helen van Meene, Actress Gabourey Sidibe: Precious. Published February 21, 2010 | Image Courtesy of Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York
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Art | New York Times Magazine Photographs

1 – 31 July

The New York Times Magazine is a bastion of publishing that has run for thousands of issues – which director of photography Kathy Ryan worked her way through to select the very best in photojournalism to represent the magazine at this exhibition. The glossy white pages of the magazine hold stories of love, tragedy, glory, grit, metamorphosis and change, captured in the images that will grace Jacksonville this summer. Expect images of countries torn apart by war, the Golden age of Hollywood and its attendant stars, the struggle for the city that never sleeps to pick up the pieces after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and much, much more.

New York Times Magazine Photographs, Museum Of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, 333 N. Laura St, Jacksonville, FL, USA, +1 904-366-6911

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Music | 30th Annual Underwater Music Festival

11 – 12 July

A little on the whimsical side, this concert requires diving or snorkelling gear; but it’s certainly worth getting wet for. Staged by radio station WWUS 104.1 FM, the Underwater Music Festival festival usually attracts a crowd of several hundred, keen to enjoy the unique sound of underwater music (high notes are emphasised and bass are ironically nowhere to be found). Visitors shouldn’t get too excited though; in reality music is pumped underwater from speakers, and the special themed instruments (including a guitar-like fish sporting a hat and shades called ‘Belushi Blue’) are just for show. With opportunities to meet August Powers (the man who creates all the marine life-influenced instruments), there’s also the chance to look behind the scenes of this unique event.

30th Annual Underwater Music Festival, Looe Key Reef Resort & Dive Center, 27340 Overseas Hwy, Ramrod Key, FL, USA, +1 305 872 2215

Culture | Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays

11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26 July

A unique night of one-act plays, this Laboratory Theater-hosted event features a special blend of comedy, drama and dry monologue, all based around the recent changes in gay marriage in the United States. It’s a tough topic to address, and still a hot button issue in America, but visitors shouldn’t worry about sitting through too much seriousness – many of the productions are as much fun as you’re likely to get on a night at the theatre, and can easily balance out the more intense pieces. The playwrights include Wendy MacLeod, Paul Rudnick, Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Neil LaBute, Doug Wright and Moises Kaufman.

Standing on Ceremony, Laboratory Theater of Florida, 1634 Woodford Ave, Fort Myers, FL USA, +1 239 218 0481

© Wikiwatcher1/WikiCommons

Literature | Hemingway Days

15 – 20 July

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘When you stop doing things for fun you might as well be dead,’ and some of his fans have taken that to heart. Well, sort of; determined to have fun this summer, they’re staging the 34th annual Hemingway themed festival, replete with a street fair, a museum exhibition of rarely seen Hemingway memorabilia, a three-day marlin tournament, a quirky ‘running of the bulls’ (a la Death in the Afternoon) and, of course, readings. The most famous part of Hemingway Days, however, is the look-alike contest (of the man himself), which is definitely not to be missed by any fans of Hemingway – or indeed fun in general.

Event takes place in various locations in Key West, FL.

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Music | 36th Annual Swamp Stomp Music Festival

12 July

The Annual Swamp Stomp Music Festival smorgasbord is a mid-summer staple, with music ranging from twanging folk music to deep, dark Southern blues and everything in between. Visitors can spread their blankets under the living oak trees and let the talented singer/songwriters’ work wash over them, or can enjoy the park’s more practical delights. Over its 52 acres, the Tallahassee Museum Park offers living history demonstrations, Tree to Tree ziplining adventures and outdoor games for the whole family – after all, it is ranked as one of Florida’s top museums, and has served as an iconic local landmark for more than 50 years.

Annual Swamp Stomp, Tallahassee Museum, 3945 Museum Rd, Tallahassee, FL, USA, +1 850 575 8684

Big Night in Little Haiti
© Averette/WikiCommons
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Culture | Big Night in Little Haiti

18 July

Haitian culture may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Miami, but this night is sure to change the mind of anyone who’s unsure if they’d enjoy experiencing it. Festival-goers can enjoy free compas (the national music of Haiti, popularised since the 1800s), jazz music, arts and crafts, delicious Haitian cuisine from Leela’s Lakay and much more (including the long-awaited opening of the Caribbean marketplace). Music acts include Nu Look and the Tap Tap band, and there will be a huge afterparty at 7th Circuit, featuring the Moksha Roots Allstars and some other special guests, and there are also hands-on art activities for kids.

Big Night in Little Haiti, Little Haiti Cultural Center Plaza, 212 NE 59th Terrace , Miami, FL, USA, +1 305 960 2969

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Art | In Pieces

Until 10 August

Anyone who’s not heard of Nathan Sawaya might be forgiven for thinking that LEGO is just a toy for kids, but in the hands of this artist it’s much, much more. Sawaya’s been around for a while, but for In Pieces he’s brought company, in the form of award-winning Australian photographer Dean West. Their collaboration sees Sawaya’s astonishing sculptures integrated into large-scale photographs taken by West, and has wowed critics in New York, Tel Aviv and Shanghai. Now it’s at the art and culture centre of Hollywood. And visitors are free to join in too; there’s an interactive area for kids, and a statewide contest for anyone to create their own LEGO sculptures, with prizes awarded when the exhibition finishes.

In Pieces, The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St, Hollywood, FL, USA, +1 954 921 3274

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Film | Summer Movie Classics at the Florida Theatre

All summer

Sad as it may be to realise, there are many living today who haven’t experienced the glittering high point of cinema that was the 1980s. But never fear, as the Summer Movies Classic season gives the next generation a chance to experience retro classics like The Goonies, Batman (the Tim Burton version), The Never-Ending Story and Gremlins. One of four historic palaces left in the state, the Florida Theatre has a 1920s style lavish and fantasy inspired Mediterranean Revival interior, and a beautiful indoor courtyard with grand balcony and star-filled ceiling. A veritable wealth of delights, and a perfect opportunity to escape the July heat.

Summer Movie Classics, Florida Theatre, 128 E Forsyth St, Jacksonville FL, USA, +1 904 355 5661