Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Local festivals in a slump?

By almost all accounts, Guavaween, Tampa Bay's Halloweenual celebration of costumed revelry, stunk out loud this year. A projected crowd of over 50,000 people turned out to be closer to about 15,000. I didn't go, but as part of my "real" job I drove partygoers to Ybor City. I did the same thing last year and the closest I could get to drop people off near an entry point was about a quarter of a mile away, and that was early in the day. Once the sun went down, you didn't want to cross Nebraska Avenue for fear of being stuck in gridlock for the rest of the night. This year, I was able to drive right up to a ticket booth on 8th Avenue all night long. So even though I didn't attend, I could tell something was off. If you think 15,000 is still a lot of people showing up, it is...if you called your buddies and said you were grilling some burgers in your backyard. But to an event planner who's expecting more than three times that many, it's the very definition of a disaster.
Speculation on what went wrong cites several factors, including the calendar (this year's event was on Halloween) unseasonably warm weather (it's November and it's still 80° and brutally humid), a change in parade policy that eliminated floats (which resulted in less participation from the various krewes, aka "them rich folk what throw the beads") and Todd Bray, the founder of the Krewe of Fort Brooke said in the St. Pete Times, "Quite frankly, you can blame it on the economy."
Please. I'm so tired of everything from slow business to why my left foot itches being blamed on the economy. I work part time at the Ford Amphitheatre where crowds of 15,000 spend a lot more than the $17 it cost to get into Guavaween for an evening's entertainment all the time, so I'm not buying that line. That's the thing though: an evening's entertainment is not throwing a chain link fence around Ybor City and charging people to get in to see and participate in what goes on there during any given Saturday night, more or less.
Anyway, between this and growing dissatisfaction with how people conduct themselves at Gasparilla (the area's marquee event), our ongoing attempt to become Brazil Jr. is hitting some bumps in the road lately. Help us, Strawberry Festival. You're our only hope!

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