TAMPA — The lack of a parade didn't stop costumed people from pouring into Ybor on Saturday night for Guavaween — even if they got a little later start.
In years past, people planning to attend the parade would pay an entrance fee and line Seventh Avenue behind safety barricades beginning at 6:30 p.m. The crowd would swell to thousands just before the annual Mama Guava Stumble parade through Ybor City.
What began more than 20 years ago as a fundraising ball for artists and writers grew into a massive night of revelry and outdoor drinking along fenced-off streets. The night was punctuated by Mama Guava's Stumble Parade, a costumed march down Seventh Avenue.
But this year, the Ybor Chamber of Commerce didn't fence off the area, did away with the entrance fee and scrapped the parade in favor of a music festival format hosted by seven nightclubs and bars.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, only a few people pranced thorough the area in costume.
"It's almost dead. I was expecting at least a couple hundred people by this time," said James Danielski, 41, a Tampa tech analyst who donned his shiny white body armor to transform into the Moon Knight. "Bring back the parade."
Several business owners said it's too early to tell whether taking down the fence — which the Chamber of Commerce said they requested — will have any effect on revenues.
But presales of festival tickets had chamber president Tom Keating optimistic Friday. "We usually only presell 10 percent of our target," he said. "We were almost at 15 percent."
Not all the faithful were happy about the changes.
"Next year we're going to stumble down Seventh Avenue though, aren't we?" Mama Guava, whose real name is Kathi Grau, asked the cheering crowd at Saturday night's costume contest in Centro Ybor's courtyard. The event drew gawkers and a large crowd — many of whom hadn't paid the $30 fee to support Guavaween's Music Festival.
An hour after the concerts began, just a few costumed revelers wandered around Ybor. Regular traffic rode up and down the thoroughfare, alarming some who chose to wear masks as a part of their costumes.
"It's crazy. They need to shut down the street so people can walk," said Val Moser, 57, of Tampa. She and her boyfriend, Dan Hoffman, 58, have been coming to Guavaween as Frankenstein and his bride for 20 years, but Moser said this year's event may be her last. "I'm old and I don't like the music. We came for the parade. I'll come back if they close off the road and bring back the parade," she said.
Tina Brown, 24, a tech producer from Tampa, had never been to Guavaween before but decided to come with a friend as soon as they heard that the Hold Steady was playing at the Ritz Ybor.
"I didn't come because of the bad perceptions about the event," Brown said. "The new format is fine with me. We love live music."