Key West’s annual Fantasy Fest masking and costuming celebration ended Oct. 26 after 10 days of masquerade parties, intriguing costume contests and street fairs — all climaxing in a spectacular grand parade. And as well as focusing on flamboyant fun and fantasy, the 2014 festival communicated a significant message.
This year’s Fantasy Fest was themed, “Animeted Dreams & Adventures,” inspired by Japanese anime and other forms of creative animation. The two Key West men chosen as grand marshals of the highlight parade, however, were “animated” by their own dream: that of being allowed to marry legally in Florida.
Festival officials selected bartenders Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones to be grand marshals because of their efforts to bring same-sex marriage equality to Florida and the Keys.
Earlier this year, they won a landmark court ruling overturning Florida’s statewide same-sex marriage ban for Florida Keys residents. A subsequent appeal by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi means they still can’t marry — but their Fantasy Fest parade float proclaimed their desire to tie the knot.
Their presence at the head of the parade was both colorful and compelling. Wearing matching tuxes and sparkling rainbow-colored top hats handcrafted by a local artisan, they stood under a rainbow arch atop a supersized “wedding cake” float as it proceeded through Key West’s historic downtown in front of more than 50,000 spectators.
But that’s not all. Traveling alongside the float were 33 other couples in wedding attire — gay, lesbian, straight, transgender and even mobility-impaired.
“The couples that are marching with us in the parade represent everybody,” said Aaron Huntsman shortly before the procession began. “It’s time for equality for everybody now.”
When the grand marshals’ float reached a reviewing stand along the parade route, the couples exuberantly threw their wedding bouquets to the crowd.
Of course, Fantasy Fest is internationally recognized for its untamed revelry and lighthearted spirit — and parade participants and spectators gleefully displayed both.
The spectacular parade included more than 40 lavishly-decorated motorized floats, many featuring music, light shows and oversized moving parts.
Accompanying them were marching groups, island bands and street dancers in elaborate sequined and feathered costumes.
Standout floats and marching groups included a troupe of colorful superheroes and villains bearing cartoon-style placards reading “Zap!” and “Ka-Pow!,” a massive float exploring what might happen if the iconic “Hello Kitty” met one of Key West’s renowned six-toed Hemingway cats, and a float spoofing the “Guardians of the Galaxy” comic books and film.
Of course, while the parade was the highlight of Fantasy Fest, more than three dozen other events also took place during the 10-day festival. Among them were the exotic Headdress Ball and a high-spirited masquerade march starting at the Key West Cemetery.
The madcap march drew thousands of costumed participants — including a group carrying a 20-foot-long blue and orange Japanese-style dragon, an ensemble dressed as television’s animated “Family Guy” characters, an exotic walking “butterfly” whose gauzy spangled wings rose 10 feet in the air, a huge blue furred “wolf” on stilts and a man portraying his own framed “beach bum” portrait.
While the 2014 Fantasy Fest was both memorable and meaningful, there’s another chance for expressing flamboyant fantasies in just 12 months. Fantasy Fest 2015, themed “All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show,” is scheduled Oct. 23 through Nov. 1 — with the highlight parade set for Halloween night.