TAMPA — Ybor City's popular Guavaween festival, known for attracting as many as 50,000 costumed revelers each year, drew fewer than 15,000 people to the historic neighborhood Saturday night, making it the lowest turnout in recent memory.
"It was like a ghost town," said Todd Bray, founder of the Krewe of Fort Brooke, which partied at a house just outside Seventh Avenue where Guavaween was taking place. "Every year, we usually see crowds of people walking by the house to watch the parade. Saturday night, we were like, 'what the heck?' Not a single person walked by."
Bray blamed the low turnout on changes made this year to the Mama Guava Stumble Parade, Guavaween's main attraction. Event organizers banned popular floats and anything motorized to save money on erecting and dismantling barricades.
In addition, some Ybor City leaders wanted to bring Guavaween back to its roots and revive old traditions.
"We think the parade was much more festive and fun," said Teri Cox, president of parade organizer CC Event Productions. "This is Guavaween. It shouldn't be like any other parade."
Guavaween began in 1985 as a small march led by costumed artists and actors. Over the years it grew into a rolling procession of extravagant floats with a raucous reputation that has attracted some and disgusted others. Local krewes, mainstays in city parades, normally excite the crowds by tossing beads in the air from their elaborate floats.
This year, only two local krewes took part in the parade, which featured walkers and a few in horse-drawn carriages.
The Krewe of Brigadoon participated by sending 10 members along the parade route to throw beads, but the crowd was smaller and the number of participants was weak, said the krewe's president, Scott Sestak, who positioned himself among the spectators.
"There wasn't much to see," he said. "It was pretty anemic."
One paradegoer, new to Tampa, described her first Guavaween experience as unlike anything her friends had prepped her to expect.
"It was awesome seeing all the costumes in the crowd," said Jessica Lawrence, a 24-year-old medical biller from St. Petersburg. "It was definitely not too crazy. It was pretty calm."
It was the seemingly low-key atmosphere that kept the Krewe of Fort Brooke from entering the festival. The krewe gathered at the home outside Seventh Avenue, where they have parked in past years, with the intention of joining Guavaween at some point in the evening.
However, as the evening wore on, they did not hear any noise erupt from Seventh Avenue like in previous years.
"Quite frankly, you can blame it on the economy," said Bray. "However, one thing (planners) don't realize is a lot of people come for the beads. They like the game of catching beads. We probably had more people at our party than they had in the whole parade."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org.