Raucous revelers beware. The Ybor City Chamber of Commerce is planning a “kinder, gentler” Guavaween festival this year, said Tom Keating, president and chief executive of the chamber.
“We’ve really calmed it down this year,” said Keating of the Saturday Guavaween festival. “We still want to carry on Ybor City’s great Halloween tradition but without the excessive drinking and partying.”
The annual Guavaween festival dates back to 1976 when a group of Ybor City dwellers decided to throw a party called the Artists and Writers Ball at The Cuban Club. Over the next three decades, the celebration evolved into Guavaween and grew into one of the top Halloween events in the country, attracting more than 250,000 visitors to Ybor City, said Keating.
But, with that growth came problems. Lewd behavior and drunken brawls began to sully the festival’s reputation. And Ybor City merchants were unhappy with the organizers’ decision to fence off a portion of Ybor City to create a wet zone where party-goers could drink freely for a single admission fee. Instead of drawing visitors to local bars and nightclubs, owners said they lost business during Guavaween.
“The merchants wanted the gate to come down, making Guavaween more of a promotion for the district,” said Keating.
So, to appease the merchants as well as reduce the incidence of alcohol-induced fighting and debauchery, the chamber took down the fence last year and eliminated the traditional Guavaween parade down Seventh Avenue, hosting an indoor music festival instead.
“But that didn’t work really well,” said Keating, noting that attendance fell. “So, this year we’re trying something new.”
Once again, the focus will be on music, but this year the concert will take place outdoors at Centro Ybor starting at 7 p.m. and will be free.
“We’ve brought in a very popular band called Scilter from Zephyrhills to entertain from 7 to 8:45 p.m.,” said Keating.
In addition, the chamber will re-introduce its annual costume contest with a $1,000 prize going to the winner.
Although the theme of the costume contest is “Classic Movie Monsters,” Keating said the country’s current political environment will undoubtedly inspire costume designers.
“There’s so much fodder out there so I’m expecting some really good political satire this year as well as a lot of traditional Wolf Man and Frankenstein costumes,” he said. “I’m always amazed at the creativity of the costumes.”
Costume contestants can obtain an armband the night of the contest from one of the chamber’s promotional partners: J.J.’s Café & Bar, Crowbar, Hamburger Mary’s, Buffalo Wild Wings or the James Joyce Irish Pub.
This year’s Guavaween marks the return of Mama Guava. Tampa actress and teacher Kathi Grau, aka Mama Guava, traditionally led the Guavaween Mama Guava Stumble Parade. This year she will be on hand to oversee the costume contest at Centro Ybor at 9 p.m.
“It’s just going to be a big interactive party,” said Keating, noting that the Ybor Merchants Association also is hosting a series of events the week of Halloween called the Fantasma Fest. “They’re doing a lot of fun stuff during the day, including a bed race and a pumpkin patch for the kids.”
Nevertheless, Keating said the chamber would love to revive the Guavaween parade.
“We’re trying to get the parade back but, when we took down the gate, we lost our revenue source, and the cost of providing security and safety fences for a parade are prohibitive without a co-sponsor,” he said.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Centro Ybor, 1600 E. 8th Ave., Tampa
Tickets: Free; (813) 241-8838 or www.ybor.org