Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Yo Ho! If it's a Chest Full of Beads, Then It's Tampa's Bead Barn, Matey

No other city in the nation is so associated with the pirate culture and the craven, lusty allure of the bead like the fair city of Tampa. Each year, Tampa's Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, a century-old private group, invades our fair city, fires its cannon at ships in our harbor and takes the key from the mayor. Following their capture of our defenseless townsfolk, they land their pirate ship at the Tampa Convention Center docks and invade our streets with a couple of dozen other Krewes. Crowds of close to 400,000 men, women and kids line Bayshore Boulevard and downtown for the best vantage point to gather beads. BEADS. Oh, glorious beads of every size, color and description. For just one day, pirate beads are the coin of the city's realm as they are fought over, traded, hoarded and worn like real jewels. And guarded and protected as such. It's an annual spectacle of parades, music, food, fun and BEADS. Ah, treasured beads. But as the dark of night creeps in over Gasparilla - and exhausted parade and party-goers - necks weighed down with pounds of beads are unloaded. Lightened of their hard-won bounty, their treasure of beads, the good folks of the Tampa Bay area begin to return to life as they knew it, before the day's invasion. They will and do recover. In the morning, the bead is again worth pennies. Unlike the day before when a 48-inch strand of faux pearls was worth ten times its weight in pure gold. The Bead Barn is the best known and most successful purveyor of beads to blood-thirsty pirates and other Krewes. It knows its customer strikes a hard bargain (and frequently carries a pirate's cutlass to make a point.) The invasion doesn't occur until February so the truck is resting up for the next go-round of delivering tons of sparkling beads destined for treasure-hungry maidens and mateys watching the calendar and sharpening their bead grabbing skills.


  1. Your description sounds just like FantasyFest in Key West. Many of the same krewes attend both events. Lots of fun and quite an anatomy lesson.

  2. It looks much like Fantasy Fest but minus some of the more adult displays and activites. Same bawdy pirating and bead grabbing. Yes, the allure of the bead is the same. I've attended Fantasy Fest and will never forget the experience. Everyone must see it once in their lifetime.

  3. Very interesting and a different perspective.

  4. Is this really true or did you make it all up? What a party! I'd turn my beady little eyes on Tampa and make a run for it, except I'm too tired.

    Great post, Frank. Hard to imagine 400K people chasing beads down the street!

  5. I have barely hinted at what happens to the city during the parade and festival afterwards. Crowds approach half a million. I can't begin to recount all the Gasparilla stories. What some people will do for a 40-cent bead. Amazing but true. It is extremely "colorful" beyond belief.

  6. Hey Frank,

    Your photos are stunning...Everyone of them. I've been meaning to hit the Gasparilla Festival but it seems like something always comes up around that time :(

    Thanks for your kind words on my posts...Coming from a blogger such as yourself, that's a pretty damn good compliment. My wife and I rarely get to Tampa, and it will probably become an even more rare event now that we have our daughter...Oh well,I guess life happens huh? I'd have it no other way though :)

    Looking forward to your next Skywatch pic...Have a good week!