NEWS FLASH – Avast! The dastardly pirate, Billy Bowlegs, be attacking the shores of the “Northernmost Caribbean” again. This year, like the fifty-eight years before, Billy and his krewe made their attack at the Fort Walton Beach Brooks Street Landing.
Billy was spotted off-shore early Friday evening. Rather than wait for the attack, the Honorable Mayor of Fort Walton Beach, Mike Anderson, decided to take matters in his own hands. He and the local militia surprised Capt’n Billy and captured him before any attack could begin. Bowlegs was put in a police car and taken away. However, most of the Bowlegs’ krewe escaped. The Mayor was worried that the krewe might spring him before he made it to the jail.
The Mayor had good reason to worry. Bowlegs was indeed “sprung” by the crew and there was a massive battle (aka fireworks) just a short ways off shore in the Santa Rosa Sound as Capt’n Billy made his escape. Then, on Saturday there was a massive attack and Bowlegs and his krewe came ashore in full force. It be hard to tell who won as “spirits” were high and everyone enjoyed the entertainment at hand. Arrrrggggghhhhh.
Ok… It’s kinda corny. The Billy Bowlegs festival has been going on for fifty-nine years. Each year it always proceeds in about the same way… pirates invade and are pushed back to sea… then pirates invade again and everyone joins the party. And what it really is… is something cooked up by the chamber of commerce to drum up business for local merchants. It is a little like a county fair… without being a county fair.
And there are bands providing entertainment through the day and evening… some pretty good and some… well, let’s say it is still fun. There are lots of vendors set up in the park to sell you all kinds of food. They cook it right there on the spot on barbecues and the like. This year I actually ate some for the first time… so far I have survived.
The festival grew out of a water skiing festival held in 1953. Looking for a way to increase revenues the Chamber of Commerce came up with the pirate theme centered around the “notorious pirate” William Augustus Bowels”. Legend has it that Bowels piracy extended throughout the region of the Northernmost Caribbean… but then the legend is of “controversial authenticity”. The festival has continued to grow over the years and is now a huge event.
This is my fifth or sixth time to the Bowlegs festival. I can’t tell you why I keep coming back. Maybe it’s the “down home” feeling you get when you are there… maybe it’s the friendly atmosphere… or most likely it’s just that people there are all having fun. It has certainly become a way to spend a couple of afternoons for lots of people here in the “Northernmost”.
One of the things that attract throngs of people is the fireworks display. Now I have seen some very fine fireworks displays… Disneyland & Disney World put on great fireworks shows. That said, the fireworks at Bowlegs this year may have been the best I have ever seen. Literally, thousands of fireworks are shot into the night sky and they are orchestrated to put on an awesome display.
Of course, there is the pirate atmosphere. Lots of people dress up in some kind of pirate garb and somehow everything always seem to be more fun with pirate festivities.
Whatever it is I’ll be back again.