Beth Moyes of Key West knows exactly how many days it is until the annual Saturday night parade of Fantasy Fest kicks off.
Always. She’s been working on a float entry with about 20 others for six months.
“All I keep hearing is, ‘Fantasy Fest is next week?’ ” said Moyes, 40, who has designed costumes for award-winning Fantasy Fest parade entries. “For me this has been my Christmas, coming for months. People start Christmas shopping in August. I start planning Fantasy Fest in May.”
Several groups in the Lower Keys have been knee-deep in the float-making process — some sinking $10,000 to $15,000 into the effort — to unveil elaborate, motorized and satirical creations for the Oct. 29 parade that begins downtown at 7 p.m. with the 2016 theme of Political Voodoo and Ballot Box Barbarians. It culminates a week of Fantasy Fest events.
Like the Carnival parades that lead up to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, those who sponsor floats in the Fantasy Fest parade do so with their own money and are cautioned not to use an entry as a commercial for a business.
The parade is part Broadway show production, part interactive party for the throngs of tourists and locals who line Duval Street shouting for beads or other “throws” — tokens from the floats — and revel in the sometimes spectacular efforts that are culminations of painstaking detail and largely built from scratch.
“I give the most points for creativity, then the exuberance of the people in the group,” said Kim Romano, who once again will be a judge at the parade. Her uncle Frank Romano helped start Fantasy Fest in 1979, when the theme was Old Key West.
In 2012, Disco Inferno by WeBeFit, a fitness center in Key West, was a devilish party on wheels with a spinning disco ball, lights and a costumed crew that had dance rehearsals in order to get the moves down pat. The float won the award for best costumes.
Last year, WeBeFit and Moyes’ Theme Runs came up with a “Mars Attack” homage called We Come in Peace, winning best in theme as nearly 40 people wore giant brain heads, green body tights and wielded ray guns.
The overall winner, for the second consecutive year, were the Lower Keys Fluffers, who dazzled judges with Old Town Funk, which recreated the indelible Mos Eisley cantina from “Star Wars,” where an oddball assortment of aliens and pilots throw down and party.
The Fluffers won the grand prize and $7,500, part of a $10,000 prize purse from the Key West Chamber of Commerce.
Those behind the award-winning floats say the process requires skill, teamwork and commitment and pays them back with a singular opportunity to express creativity.
“It’s pretty much a part-time job,” said Renee Benmbark, who owns Hip Hop and Groovy Dance on Big Pine Key and who is part of the Fluffers’ management team in charge of the dance choreography. “You have to make time out of your 40-hour to 60-hour work week and literally you have to show up.”
The Fluffers, who aren’t releasing details of their 2016 float before the parade, include carpenters, builders and architectural designers who map out the project and create it detail-by-detail.
“It’s more than just for fun,” Benmbark said. “It’s about really coming together and making a statement of what people can do together. We have this creative nature.”
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen