Key West’s Fantasy Fest marks 40 years with ‘In Tune But … Off Key’ exuberance

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In tune with one of most off-key celebrations on the planet, revelers are to gather in Key West to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Fantasy Fest, the island’s internationally renowned masking and costuming festival. Scheduled Friday, Oct. 18, through Sunday, Oct. 27, the exotic extravaganza features masquerade balls, costume competitions, street fairs, performance art, glamorous galas and an over-the-top grand parade.

Themed “In Tune But … Off Key” the festival includes musically themed merriment in genres from rockabilly to salsa — and even a mobile cocktail party featuring a quirky ukulele band.

Fantasy Fest organizers encourage people to march to the beat of their own drum, designing their costumes and parade floats around everything from memories of bebop and “glam” rock to operatic daydreams and campy Broadway musicals.

The festival’s official kickoff is the two-day Goombay Celebration in Key West’s Bahama Village. Held Oct. 18 and 19, the Caribbean-flavored Goombay pulses to a reggae beat with nonstop entertainment, island-style food and arts and crafts.

Also Oct. 18, the Fantasy Fest King and Queen are to be crowned at the Royal Coronation soiree and stage show, capping a two-month fundraising effort by candidates to benefit the Florida Keys nonprofit A.H. of Monroe County.

Among the dozens of events orchestrated for fantasy fans are the wacky Pet Masquerade, a Fantasy Fest favorite for costumed pets and their people that takes place Wednesday, Oct. 23. The following day brings the Key West Business Guild’s Headdress Ball, where “headliners” compete for prizes in huge and elaborate masks and cowls.

Plans call for the medley of madness to take to the streets Friday, Oct. 25, with a freewheeling Masquerade March of costumed characters. Marchers are encouraged to bring whistles, noisemakers and percussion instruments to add to the excitement as they strut through part of Key West’s Old Town.

Revelers can also “trumpet” their fondness for festivities at events including the family-friendly Zombie Bike Ride, rocking Beatles tribute show and look-alike bash, tutu party and bar crawl, Fun House featuring famed circus acrobats, waterfront Woodstock takeoff and hippie costume contest, daily BART bar and art strolls, street performances and a “Living Art” competition for painted bodies.

Saturday night, Oct. 26, nearly 70,000 spectators are expected to line Whitehead and Duval streets for the spectacular Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade. A dazzling procession of large-scale floats, costumed marching groups and bands, the parade displays the off-key creativity and exuberant spirit that have kept party lovers “tuning in” to the festival for 40 years.

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