My watch says 5:18 p.m. I’ve been at the Summer of Rum Festival for 45 minutes; I’m on my third drink and my own treasure hunt. The prize? Pirates.
Held in Tampa Heights at the old trolley barn, the place where streetcars slept during their early-1900s heyday, the Summer of Rum Festival brings together local art, music and food for a booze-fueled day of community-supporting fun. Proceeds from the event benefit My Hope Chest, a charity that provides breast reconstruction surgery to uninsured breast cancer survivors.
At the market in the back of the warehouse, Florida craftsmen like Galvin Leatherworks peddle handcrafted hipflasks, top hats, and other leather goods. Meanwhile DJs pump reggae through faux-palm trees and island-inspired rum shacks that look as if they’ve been teleported from some Caribbean beach.
A breeze from the Hillsborough River cools the waterfront lawn, more rum shacks radiate from the lawns entrance, a hurricane here, a rum runner there, here some rum, there some rum, and Jeff Chouinard of Surf Soul Tiki, chiseling the mouth of his latest tiki-man creation right at the tent.
Meaghan Habuda, a fellow journalist, and I, first spot the pirates near the Cruzan Mojito Zone, one of six specially designated “rum zones.” Pirate culture is prevalent in the Tampa Bay area and being transplant from New York, the abundance of bead slinging pseudo-swashbucklers has always fascinated me.
We have to find them. But first we must imbibe sufficient quantities of rum to merit audience with such salty sea rovers.
Start with a Mango mojito; then a hurricane or two; a mai tai; the frozen daiquiri shack is closed, so another mai tai; the daiquiri shack is finally open, so a frozen rumrunner; and finally, hit the Naked Turtle shack for a Naked on the Beach. Now we’re ready to pirate hunt.
We intricately peruse the inner workings of the event space, Cruzan Main Street, making sure to look over every shack (and maybe get a refill). No avail.
Outside we split, ultimately converging on the frozen daiquiri shack. Finally, two pirates ahoy! I grab my recorder, look up and they’re gone. How is that even possible?
We frantically search once more around the outside; they couldn’t have gotten far. Then finally we find the cunning corsairs, munching happily in the food truck section. “Needs more rum,” shouts Captain Don Marco of Ye Mystic Krewe of Santa Margarita, after his fourth drink. “I can’t feel the buzz.”
“That’s ’cause he’s way past the buzz,” replies Stacy Greer, fellow member and captain’s daughter.
Captain Marco, aka Mark Dauck and his wife, Cindy, who goes by Anna Rosa and serves as commodore, or events coordinator, decided eight years ago they wanted to experience life on the other side of the rails after frequenting parades like Gasparilla.
“Looked like they were having a hell of a lot of fun,” says Anna Rosa.
So they found a krewe they liked and signed up. A few years later, Greer, an eight-year Air Force veteran, signed up with her boyfriend, Andrew Misiek. The Daucks’ first excursion was Dunedin’s Mardi Gras parade eight years ago.
“It was like being a rock star for five minutes,” says the Cap’n. They’ve never looked back.
Though fun is a priority, there is more to the krewe. They have a committee dedicated to philanthropy and are a registered 501c3 charitable organization.
“We support four or five different children’s charities,” says Adam Levine, the krewe’s parliamentarian, who also holds J.D. and M.D. degrees. “We have a ball every year to raise money for different charities. We do other things, but we have a great time doing it.”
They enjoy dressing and partying as family, but there are also days like two weeks ago, when 28 of their members decided to visit families at All Children’s Hospital.
“They need someone to let them know people care,” says Anna Rosa. “A lot of people think all we do is drink and throw beads, but it’s a lot more. It’s about giving back to the community that supports us.”
And then there’s the rum. It’s also about the rum.