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It's that time of year again, when pirates, parades, beads and merrymaking take over the city of Tampa.

There's no way around it. Saturday, the pirates invade, throw beads and lead us into the merrymaking that is Gasparilla.

The day starts with the Pirate Invasion, a tradition in Tampa since 1904 when the "pirates" (local businessmen) stormed in on horseback. These days, the pirate krewes (who now count women among their ranks) sail into the harbor on private boats and vintage sailing vessels, including the 18th century re-creation, Jose Gasparilla.

After the mock invasion, the bead-throwing pirates take over Bayshore Boulevard on floats for the Pirate Parade, which this year has been extended half a mile.

Meanwhile, in downtown Tampa, the Pirate Fest, with its amusement rides, live entertainment and Pirate's Chest Arts and Crafts Show, keeps the fun going into Saturday night and Sunday.

The highlights for this year's entertainment include Amber, who takes the 93.3 FLZ stage in Curtis Hixon Park at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The Netherlands-born singer, whose real name is Marie-Claire Cremers, currently has the dance-pop single Sexual (Li Da Di).

Also Saturday night, the "Rare Earth, Iron Butterfly, Sugarloaf All Stars" band plays on the Thunder 103.5 stage at Ashley and Madison streets. This band comprises former members of those '70s rock bands, including Peter Rivera, former singer and drummer of Rare Earth (Get Ready, I Just Want to Celebrate); Jerry Corbetta, former lead singer of SugarLoaf (Green-Eyed Lady); and Mike Pinera, guitarist from Iron Butterfly (In A Gadda Da Vida).

Other downtown venues are also getting into the Gasparilla spirit and hosting their own events in conjunction with the main activities.

The Indigo Girls play Cold Storage Cafe, 102 S Tampa St., on Saturday. Opening acts Safka and Dreamtime start at 4 p.m. The Indigo Girls go on after 8 p.m. Cost is $5, and some tickets will be available when doors open at 2 p.m.

Also, behind the Florida Aquarium on Channelside Drive, the guided missile destroyer, the USS Ramage, will be docked from 1-4 p.m. Free guided tours will be available on Saturday.

For more information on Gasparilla events check out the Web site: http://


TIME: 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Saturday

WHAT YOU WILL SEE: A mock invasion of Tampa. Starts like any good military maneuver on water. Hundreds of watercraft fill Hillsborough Bay _ speedboats, sailboats, and in the case of Ye Mystic Krewe, the Jose Gasparilla, a replica of an 18th century West Indian vessel. The flotilla moves across Hillsborough Bay to dock at the Tampa Convention Center at 1:15 p.m. There, the head pirate of Ye Mystic Krewe, organizers of the first Gasparilla, takes the keys of the city from Mayor Dick Greco. The pirates ask: "Will you surrender the city?" As usual, the mayor won't stand in the way. Pirates invade.

VANTAGE POINTS: Tampa Convention Center, Harbour Island and the Platt Street Bridge


TIME: Starts at 1:45 p.m. at Howard and Bayshore; ends about 5:30 p.m. at Kennedy Boulevard, near the University of Tampa. Parade route is about three miles. See map.

WHAT YOU WILL SEE: A 110-unit parade. At least one pirate with a fake bird on his shoulder. Floats shaped like boats. Cannons and guns firing blanks. Sideline activities can be just as interesting as kids reach for beads and adults chug contraband beverages.

VANTAGE POINT: Bayshore Boulevard

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