KEY WEST, Florida Keys — With activities ranging from a “drag” race for female impersonators to a lighthearted sea battle featuring tall ships, the Conch Republic’s 10-day birthday party is set to take place Friday, April 22, through Sunday, May 1.
Showcasing the republic’s eccentric spirit, the 29th annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration commemorates the Florida Keys’ secession from the United States following a 1982 U.S. Border Patrol blockade that virtually stopped traffic on the only road to the mainland.
In protest, local officials staged the secession. After proclaiming the Conch Republic, they declared war on the mother country, pelted federal agents with stale Cuban bread, surrendered after 60 seconds and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid.
Today patriots throughout the Keys fly the royal blue flag of the republic, whose motto is “We Seceded Where Others Failed,” and celebrate the secession’s anniversary each year with a lively island-wide party.
As well as the drag race and sea battle for sea dogs and wenches, festival highlights include the World’s Longest Parade, named because its sea-to-sea route down Key West’s Duval Street proceeds from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
The festival’s oldest event is the Conch Republic Red Ribbon Bed Race, a charity race of decorated beds down Duval Street. Featuring racing teams of strange bedfellows, the quirky challenge is billed as “the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on.”
The schedule also includes a pirates’ ball and pig roast, fiddlers’ contest and jam of bluegrass and old-time music, Conch Crawl showcasing favorite watering holes, Conch Republic military reception aboard the World War II museum ship Mohawk and sailing race commemorating the Keys’ historic shipwreck salvage tradition.
Event information: www.conchrepublic.com
Key West visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY