KEY WEST, Florida Keys -- It began with a roadblock erected by the United States Border Patrol, an irritated populace staging a ceremonial secession from the Union, and a symbolic "attack" on a government official with a loaf of stale Cuban bread. Today, 33 years later, "patriots" can celebrate the anniversary of the Conch Republic’s birth Friday, April 17, through Sunday, April 26.
The Conch Republic Independence Celebration is to include irreverent activities including a "drag" race between female impersonators, a good-natured sea battle featuring historic tall ships, a rollicking parade and a bed race billed as "the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on."
The island republic, whose motto is "We seceded where others failed," was born to combat a 1982 Border Patrol blockade of the Florida Keys that threatened to cut off the region's economic lifeblood. Its stated mission is to bring more "humor, warmth and respect" to the planet, and the featured events during the 2015 celebration should do just that.
Among the most outrageous events is the Great Conch Republic Drag Race. Scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, April 18, in the 700 block of Duval Street, the race is to feature a gaggle of drag queens -- dolled up in sporty dresses, full makeup and teased tresses -- sprinting down the pavement in startlingly high heels.
Other festival highlights include the World's Longest Parade, set for 8 p.m. Thursday, April 23, so named because its route down Key West's Duval Street proceeds from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
Sea dogs and wenches on tall ships and other vessels can combat "evil federal forces" during the Great Battle for the Conch Republic, and landlubbers can vie for victory in a charity race featuring "strange bedfellows" and decorated beds on Duval Street.
In addition, theater fans can experience "Conch Republic, The Musical," presented by Key West's Fringe Theater and chronicling the strange-but-true secession. Performances are set for 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, April 23-26, at the San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval St.
The festival schedule also includes a pirates' ball, Conch Crawl showcasing Duval Street watering holes, music festival, "zero k" Cow Key Channel Bridge Run, food and crafts fest, Conch Republic military muster and a sailing race commemorating the Florida Keys' historic shipwreck salvage tradition.
Event information and schedule: www.conchrepublic.com
Key West visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
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