The first Key West Fantasy Fest, a masquerade party extravaganza, was held in October 1979, the brainchild of a few local businessmen to boost tourism during the beautiful, but not so bountiful, month of October. Since it’s inception, Fantasy Fest has grown to welcome upwards of 75,000 visitors each year; costumed, painted, half naked or whole, whoop-whooping through town for 7 days of partying, parading and drinking—lots and lots of drinking. And being that I just celebrated my third Fantasy Fest (FF), and being that I managed to stay sober through all of them (I’ve been sober forever), I feel somewhat qualified to weigh in on all the hoopla.
The events are non-stop; daytime parties are tame (although I’ve only attended a few), mostly hotel pool parties with live music and games, open to everyone. But as the sun goes down, and as one might expect, the party level goes up; zombie bike ride, tutu Tuesday, headdress ball, pajama parties, people’s parade, every variety of shenanigans imaginable, built on heavy drinking, nudity and a city full of tourists. [Please note: the majority of bodies one sees during FF are not pretty—a little liquor hides a whole lotta ugly] There are closed parties (available to anyone for a cover) filled with hetero hell raising—yes, they fuck in bars in swings–I’ve never witnessed this but its been confirmed by several reliable sources. And worth noting, while Key West is often thought of as a homosexual haven (and it is), FF is primarily a heterosexual event—tits and ass proudly displayed all over town. There is, thank goodness, a FF zone—a designated area (all of Duval Street) for nudity and shenanigans. My home, six blocks from ground zero, is unbelievable removed from it all. I wonder in this “me too” time where sexual harassment and unwanted advances make headlines and destroy lives, what can one take away from all of this revelry and debauchery. Big surprise: the sexual underbelly of America is alive and well in Key West.
I participate in only a few events—but I have a ball. The Zombie Bike Ride and People’s Parade are a must, either as participant or spectator. Tutu Tuesday is hysterical and the Green Parrott, this year and every year, was throbbing with way-too-loud music and big-bellied, dancing ballerinas. [If you’re ever in FL and Patrick and the Swayzees are in town—go see them]. I don’t do the late night events (geez, I’m almost seventy) but a night walk is a fabulous freak show, a must—if you’re into that kind of thing. Sadly, a woman I know was offended by a burlesque show in town at the onset of Fantasy Fest. I saw the same show and thought it was a hoot; women who bumped and banged and striped down to pasties, not unlike many of the shows my ex-husband and I would sometimes catch on Baltimore’s block in the early 80’s. I suspect there are many reason why I woman would choose to make a living off of her body, I just can’t weigh in on that. The offended lady left at intermission and I absolutely respect her decision, but this small-town burlesque show was but a tame introduction to Key West’s fuck fest. I suspect she didn’t take any late night strolls down by Sloppy Joe’s or pay the cover into Kelly’s.
I’m comfortable with a “don’t worry, be happy” approach to Fantasy Fest. It’s not an event for the newly sober, for feminists, evangelicals, for those connected to piety or sanity in any way. Fantasy pretty much says it all—people acting on zero inhibitions and mindfulness, behaving in ways they only imagined. One can participate or not. Is it alcohol induced? You betcha. I would drink if I could but I can’t and I’m not haunted by abstention. Truly. I love my Key West, filled with shock and awe and once a year, men and women strolling down the sidewalk on leashes.