Showcasing the republic’s eccentric spirit, the 40th annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration commemorates the Florida Keys’ symbolic secession from the United States following the establishment of a 1982 U.S. Border Patrol blockade that virtually stopped traffic on the only road connecting the Keys and mainland Florida.
In protest, local officials proclaimed the island chain the independent Conch Republic. They then declared “war” on the United States, carried it out by pelting an unsuspecting U.S. Naval officer with stale Cuban bread, immediately surrendered and requested 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 10 days of “FUN-dependence” offerings.
In honor of the 40th birthday, organizers have planned more than 40 events ranging from historical to hysterical. Most are free and family friendly.
Festivities begin Friday, April 15, with the ceremonial raising of the colors at Key West’s landmark Mallory Square.
Subsequent events are to include a “Drag Race” for drag queens instead of souped-up cars, a beach cleanup, the so-called “World’s Loooooongest Parade” along Duval Street from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, on-the-water adventures, a pirate ball, the wacky “Blue Ribbon Bed Races” featuring decorated beds and the Great Sea Battle of the Conch Republic. During the latter, sea dogs and wenches on tall ships and other vessels combat “evil federal forces” and the republic always wins.
Numerous arts, cuisine and libation experiences also await festivalgoers. Anticipated highlights include the Hot Havana Night gala featuring live music, a Cuban-themed dinner, and an appearance by the cast of the award-winning documentary “Cuba Reframed — The Power of Connection,” to be broadcast nationally in 2022.
The secession itself is to be remembered Saturday, April 23, the historic event’s 40th anniversary, at a party featuring Conch Republic dignitaries and military members at the waterfront Southernmost House Hotel 1400 Duval St.
The festival concludes Sunday, April 24, after an open-air jazz performance, a sailing race that recalls the Florida Keys’ seafaring heritage and the closing night of the rollicking “Conch Republic — The Musical!” presented by the Fringe Theater.
Event information and complete schedule: conchrepublic.com
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
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