GULFPORT — The celebrants trekked in a half-hour before sunset. Some carried coolers; a few had bug spray.
They entered a deep back yard strewn with kitsch and clutter, found art and discarded objects that might be made into art, strings of colored lights between trees and hints of 1970s nostalgia.
Regulars call the Blueberry Patch "Florida's oldest surviving artists retreat." The sight can overwhelm new visitors, who describe it in the group's literature as "Alice in Wonderland meets Tim Leary," or "like being inside of a Christmas tree looking out."
This crowd would have showed up in any event on Monday, the 37th anniversary of the Patch. But on this night, celebration mingled with mourning. Dallas Bohrer, an enigmatic devotee of numerology who founded the retreat on July 7, 1977, had died the day before in a nursing home. He was 81.
"He lived a very unconventional sort of counterculture life," said longtime friend Mary Anna Eaton. "He wasn't a baby boomer. He wasn't even part of the Beat Generation. He was more of an outsider."
Mr. Bohrer nurtured dozens of obsessions, the fruits of which line pathways inside a tall gate surrounding the former nursery at 4923 20th Ave. S. Old signs and strings of beads hang everywhere. He cut up beer cans and folded them into stars. An alligator made of pull tops from cat food cans lurks near the stage, not far from the spray-painted shell of an MG with rainwater pooled on the hood.
He loved sake and marijuana, according to Eaton and Dee Wilson, another friend who later became his health care surrogate.
As for dislikes, the word "hate" provoked a sharp reaction, said Ken Carman, 63, a musician better known as "Spirit."
"If you said, 'I hate it when it rains,' he would say, 'Why would you put a word like that into the universe? I would prefer it if you used a different word,' " Carman said.
Dallas Laverne Bohrer was born in Dalhart, Texas, in 1933, one of an oil field worker's seven kids. A football standout, he won a scholarship to Colorado State University but lost it when doctors discovered a heart murmur.
For a decade or so he tried a traditional lifestyle with a wife and children. He managed stores in Denver and Wichita, Kan. Along the way, a 3-year-old daughter drowned in a swimming pool. The marriage ended in divorce.
"I think (the death) gave him a lot of empathy for others," said Eaton, 61.
For a time, Mr. Bohrer slept on a four-poster bed on the edge of a canyon in Arizona. "Everything he ever owned was rained on at one time or another," Eaton said. He owned an art gallery and studio in Phoenix, where he began to hold large gatherings.
Mr. Bohrer moved to St. Petersburg in the mid 1970s. He started the Blueberry Patch on July 7, 1977, at 5890 31st St. S. For several years in the 1980s he also leased the Merry Pier at Eighth Avenue in Pass-a-Grille, where he ran concessions and fought with the city over back rent and other issues.
He held a memorable Patch party at his residence on Pass-a-Grille Way on Aug. 8, 1988, that drew 200 people ("the Eights," he called it). At his behest, 11 people held mirrors to the sky "to tune in to whatever it is that is there that can bring us some peace," Mr. Bohrer said at the time.
The Patch moved a couple of times over the years. Mr. Bohrer finally bought the 20th Avenue S property in 2003. That same year the city closed it over code violations, including dilapidated structures, noise levels from the bands that played there and various fire hazards.
Volunteers fixed the problem, and the Patch has improved relations with its neighbors, including Mayor Sam Henderson, who lives a few blocks away and called Mr. Bohrer "an excellent guy to know."
"They had issues in the past," Henderson said. "All of those things got resolved, and they've actually been a good partner with the city and a great asset to the community."
In 2012, after being nominated by Henderson, Mr. Bohrer won the Spirit of Gulfport award. In December, the government granted the Patch organization, Sharevival, nonprofit status.
That could not have happened before because Mr. Bohrer did not want to give anyone his Social Security number. He also refused to deal with banks.
"He didn't want the authorities to know his business," said Wilson, 62.
Mr. Bohrer had not been involved in the day-to-day operations of the Patch for some time. Doctors diagnosed him with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He had lived in a Pinellas Park nursing home for four years, and decorated his room with beads, stuffed animals, buttons, roosters, and the cards and letters he received.
On Monday, a couple of members spoke in his memory. Then musicians took the stage, as they do on the first, seventh, 11th and 22nd days of each month. A scattered audience in patio chairs took it all in, responding with the occasional flicker of a lighter held aloft.
A little after 11 p.m. a couple of dozen celebrants formed an "Ohm circle," which is like a group hug, only louder. The air smelled like beer, sweat and other fragrances.