The Ybor City Chamber of Commerce tried something new Saturday night for Guavaween, the annual Halloween celebration in the historic district. The event has undergone many permutations. It began 27 years ago as a loosely organized celebration led by writers and artists. Over the years it has become more popular, but it's been difficult for organizers to find the right mix of music festival and costume party that would please businesses and attendees alike.
Costume contest crowd at Centro Ybor.
Traditionally held on the last Saturday in October, Guavaween used to be divided into daylight hours for family-oriented activities and the Mama Guava Stumble Parade after night fell. Controversy arose after officials decided to fence off the Ybor district for the night, bring in outside vendors for alcohol and food sales, and charge an admission fee. Partiers complained that it was too expensive, and businesses didn't like competing with vendors brought in from the outside.
This year's event did away with fences, large outdoor stages, the parade, wet zone, and street vendors. Instead, in addition to the traditional costume contest at Centro Ybor, seven locations hosted 31 musical acts. [CLICK HERE
for a review about that component of the fest, with photos.] Traffic flowed down Seventh Avenue, and open containers were not allowed on the street.
Live Penthouse cover girl on 7th Ave.
The 2012 costumes did not disappoint. Everywhere along Seventh Avenue were monsters of every description, sexy schoolgirls of both genders, Nazis, freaks, superheroes, and gawkers with cameras on every corner.
What happened to your face?
Five scary clowns in front of Bradley's on 7th
Guavaween also brought temporary celebrity to people in costume. If you were sexy, quirky or sporting a popular costume, others wanted to be photographed with you. Here are some crowd favorites.
Coming Out Barbie. This was Barbie's first trip to Guavaween.
Kush and Maui dressed as their favoite weed
Gary Kay, an Ybor City resident, dressed as Gene Simmons.
Opinions of the change in format were mixed. The rationale for taking away the fences and the street vendors was to bring customers back to the existing businesses in the district. The Chamber of Commerce was responding to complaints that sales were down because people were staying on the street to party and not patronizing their establishments.
Cindy and Eddie Niremberg have been attending almost every year since 2004. "This way sucks," Eddie said, giving his opinion of the new format. He liked it much better when the streets were closed to cars.
Ayrrun Stahl and Roberta Obry pose after the costume contest. Obry has been attending since 1996 and does not like the new format either. She misses some of the old features like the 98 Rock Stage with big-name acts.
Gabe Cancetty, manager of Club Prana, was expecting a smaller crowd than usual. "We won't be as busy tonight because people think that Guavaween is canceled," he said. His club was not one of the venues participating in the Chamber of Commerce events. Prana promoted its own costume party to get more people to come in.
Carlos Villaverde, enjoying his second time as a large penis and his tenth Guavaween, said, "This is ten times better."
Sheri West and Martha Bone also preferred the 2012 format. They thought it felt safer without the fences, and they liked the fact that there were fewer people.
Officials may have difficulty making a decision on future formats. Many of the clubs which required the $30 armband were empty most of the night. Some, like the Crowbar when Have Gun Will Travel was playing, were packed. It was clear that the crowd that gathered on Seventh Avenue was much larger than that of a typical Saturday night. So the chamber got what it wanted by attracting a larger crowd, but in some cases failed to fill the businesses that were hosting the sponsored bands.
Steven A. Clark plays to an empty Orpheum
There were five fans watching The Same at Market on 7th.
The Crowbar was crowded when Have Gun Will Travel played.
Seventh Avenue was crowded all night even if some of the clubs were not. This is what it looked like at 12:25 Sunday morning.
Kathi Grau, Mama Guava herself, may have summed it up best. She favors a hybrid of the two formats. She understands the need for businesses to make money but also wants Guavaween to be a party for the people. According to Grau, the original event was modeled loosely after Fantasy Fest in Key West. She would like to see the return of the parade, national acts, and no fences.
Mama Guava (Kathi Grau) emcees the costume contest at the Centro Ybor Courtyard.