This week we chat with Don Barnes, executive director of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, which will stage today's "Parade of Pirates" along Bayshore Boulevard into downtown Tampa.
Q: What new things should people expect to see at Gasparilla this year?
A: This year we have four new units joining us for the Parade of Pirates, including The Shooting Stars who are coming down from Philadelphia, Pa., to participate. In addition, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla is partnering with the City of Tampa and the Krewe of the Nautilus on this year's "Greening Gasparilla" campaign aimed at increasing recycling efforts during the parades.
Q: What impact will the recent improvements to Bayshore Boulevard have on the parade route and the ability to see floats and catch beads?
A: I don't see a significant impact from these beautification efforts. There will be some medians along Bayshore that are fenced off in order to protect vegetation that would not hold up to a high level of pedestrian traffic, so in those areas pedestrians will be asked to remain behind fenced medians or move a bit farther down the parade route, if they wish, for a closer view. Because we have a long parade, there should still be ample median area available along the route to offer spectators an up-close view of the floats and to catch thrown items from parade participants.
Q: What led you to seek to become head of Ye Mystic Krewe?
A: My former military experience at MacDill Air Force Base really showed me that Tampa is a military friendly town; so much so that my wife Kathy and I decided to retire and settle down here with our new-found "family" in the community. You all made us feel at home. About the time I applied for retirement from the Air Force, the position of executive director at Gasparilla came open. I jumped at the chance because it allowed me to stay connected to this city and reminded me of my childhood in New Orleans attending Mardi Gras. Now, as executive officer of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, I can help promote the City of Tampa and its diverse culture to potential tourists/visitors, not only from across the United States but internationally as well. Besides which, it is just plain fun!
Q: Why do you think people keep coming back, year after year, to the parade?
A: I think people come back because it's exciting. We have 107 units in our parade, each displaying a unique part of Tampa's history/culture. It's not only variety of units, but also the variety of throw-items parade participants offer to spectators. Each parade the "treasure" flows, and it is different every year. Last year spectators might have captured a lighted skull necklace as a prize, but this year they might grab a lighted eye-patch as their coveted treasure. The weather in Florida is perfect in January and the parade gives everyone an opportunity to get outside. Not to mention watching the country's only full-sized pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, as she sails into the city with cannon's blazing.
Q: How far in advance do you suggest people start practicing saying 'Arrrrrrrr'?
A: It is never too early to start practicing! Tampa is a "pirate" town. Just look around at the "Jolly Roger" flags hanging from houses, or visit "Buccaneer" stadium. We are all pirates at heart … so express yourself with a mighty ARRGGHH!!!!!