Every year visitors join Florida Keys residents for the Conch Republic Independence Celebration, a quirky event honoring the birth of the republic and its place in Keys history. The 32nd annual celebration is scheduled April 18-27, 2014, with activities ranging from a sea battle featuring tall ships to parades, parties and a musical production detailing the offbeat “nation’s” formation.
The republic was founded in April 1982 to protest the installation of a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint that stopped traffic at the top of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, the only road in and out of the Keys.
Since the federal government was treating the island chain like a foreign nation, local leaders decided it would become one. They staged a ceremony seceding from the United States, raised a quickly-constructed Conch Republic flag, declared “war” on the mother country and carried it out by pelting federal agents with stale Cuban bread.
Following the 60-second skirmish, they surrendered and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid — which still hasn’t arrived.
The 2014 independence celebration is to include the Great Conch Republic Drag Race scheduled for Saturday afternoon, April 19, in the 700 and 800 blocks of Duval Street. Instead of high-speed cars, it features high-heeled drag queens sprinting down Duval in dresses and full makeup.
The Conch Republic Naval Parade and Great Battle takes place Friday, April 25, at 7 p.m. The Conch Republic Military, aboard tall ships and other vessels, combats “evil” federal forces in Key West Harbor with weapons ranging from water cannons to flying vegetables. Spectators can watch from harborfront establishments.
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. Friday through Sunday, April 25-27, at the San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval St. Tickets are $35 per person.
Saturday, April 26, brings the Conch Republic Red Ribbon Bed Race. Teams of “strange bedfellows” propel decorated beds up a portion of Duval Street to raise money for Key West’s AIDS Help Inc.
Other festival highlights include the so-called world’s longest parade down Duval Street from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, a ukulele orchestra performance and a sailing race recalling the Keys’ shipwreck salvage history.
Event information and schedule: www.conchrepublic.com or https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Conch-Republic/380342204001
Key West visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY