This Saturday night, Ybor City experiences the rebirth of Guavaween, which rises from the wreckage of ill-advised fencing and wet zoning permits with a fresh new vibe for its 27th year. Yes, the fences are gone, abandoned in favor of a music festival approach that brings the district-wide Halloween event into six Ybor venues and opens up the streets and area establishments to everyone, even those few folks who might not necessarily want to go to Guavaween but still want to go to Ybor. “We’ve made a dramatic shift,” Ybor City Chamber of Commerce president Tom Keating said in a recent phone conversation.
The changes didn’t come easy. Guavaween was a local tradition and fundraiser for the Chamber that, though dwindling in attendance and profits, still drew around 20,000 people. Unfortunately, businesses located within the boundaries of the fence erected around Ybor’s entertainment district consistently suffered; people weren’t coming to Ybor that night for any reason other than Guavaween, and with live entertainment presented on outdoor stages and vendors on the street hawking food and alcohol every few steps, attendees had little motivation to venture inside any of the area’s myriad bars, eateries, clubs, and music venues, especially after paying for parking and Guavaween admission. But it wasn’t just about the money. “The most important thing is the way it reflected on the district,” explained Tom DeGeorge, owner of Crowbar and member of the Ybor Merchants Association. “Ybor City gets enough bad press as it is without having to deal with that once a year.”
The growing discontent reached a boiling point in March when members of the merchants association took their grievances about the fence to the Tampa City Council and proposed alternatives for Guavaween 2012. DeGeorge spearheaded the idea of shifting Guavaween’s focus to music and transforming it into more of a community music festival. “If you’re going to have an event on a huge scale under such a huge spotlight, you want it to be something that’s more true to what the area’s really all about,” DeGeorge explained. “Ybor City is not about drinking in the street, it’s about embracing the venues that are here, the live music in the area that happens on a regular basis that some people might not be aware of. That was part of the vision of changing this thing around.”
The Chamber announced plans to move forward with the new music-geared format a few months later, and powwows began in earnest early this summer. Keating and DeGeorge (whom Keating calls a “true believer”) teamed up with Brokenmold Entertainment’s Phil Benito and Sean O’Brien to set the plans in motion. Choosing to work with Brokenmold was an easy decision, said Keating. “They program a lot of the venues in Ybor already and have good working relationships there. And they’ve had some really good successes with Gasparilla Music Festival, with Antiwarpt, and they’ve helped out the past few years with Tropical Heatwave, too.”
Even though the process took longer than DeGeorge had anticipated and Guavaween 2012 is “a very raw version of what it could be,” he’s quick to applaud Brokenmold’s efforts. “I think Sean and Phil have done a tremendous job with the amount of time that they had to work with,” he said.
This year, Guavaween takes place amid an 11-day series of events geared toward promoting Ybor’s multitude of offerings. Dubbed Fantasma Fest, it runs through Halloween and encompasses the family-oriented Little Monster’s Promenade and Pumpkin Patch at Centro Ybor Saturday afternoon, and Hell on Wheels Motorcycle Run and Poker Walk on Sunday. On paper, the new Guavaween should appeal to those who stopped going to the fest because they felt like it had turned into an alcohol-soaked horror show (frightening for all the wrong reasons) and was no longer relevant to their adult lives, in addition to those local folks who’d never actually attended Guavaween due its overall bad reputation, and the young hipsters who’d probably never even heard of the event before King Tuff and The Hold Steady were announced as its headliners. “This is a promotion for the night-time live music venues,” Keating commented. “My hope is that this [Guavaween] will be a promotion for the district as a live music venue throughout the Tampa Bay area.”
Mama Guava’s Stumble Parade will no longer make its way down Seventh Avenue, but the annual Guavaween Costume Contest continues as planned in Centro Ybor, with a $1,000 cash prize for first place, $500 for second and $250 for third. A universal wristband gets you into six venues (The Ritz Ybor, Orpheum, Czar, Crowbar, Market on 7th and New World Brewery) that feature more than 30 high-quality genre-spanning performers, from national talent like the aforementioned indie rock darlings The Hold Steady and Sub Pop garage rocker King Tuff (more info below), to local Best of the Bay-winning rock acts Auto!Automatic!! and Florida Night Heat. [CLICK HERE for more info.]
Come in costume, sip a café au lait at King Corona or share a giant plate of fresh pasta at Laughing Cat Café with a friend, and enjoy some one-of-a-kind people-watching as the costumed throngs pass by, then make your leisurely way to see some live music. Or don’t, just because you can.