#Column: Behind the scenes of Fantasy Fest with Bill Murphy

Planning starts a year ahead

#Column: Behind the scenes of Fantasy Fest with Bill Murphy

Bill Murphy came to Key West in 2002 and opened his adult-themed store Fairvilla Megastore at 520 Front St. Murphy also has stores in Orlando and Cape Canaveral and had looked for a location in Key West for a couple of years.

Once in Key West, Murphy got involved in the island’s yearly Fantasy Fest and joined its board of directors.

“The board is made up of 12, but that number does fluctuate,” Murphy said during lunch at Harpoon Harry’s.

Reciting from memory, which he said does sometimes let him down, Murphy said the board directors are Joe Liszka, Steve Robbins, Diane Schmidt, and Linda O’Brien and members are Charlie Bauer, Tony Falcone, Matt Trahan, Hugh Morgan, Joseph Violi and Joy Smatt. All members, he added, are involved one way or another in the lodging, entertainment or the business community of the island. He forgot to mention himself, president of the Tourist Development Association.

Murphy said the Market Share Company produces Fantasy Fest for the Tourist Development Association, not to be confused with Monroe County’s Tourist Development Council (TDC).

“The original founders were Tony Falcone, Frank Romano and Hugh Morgan,” he said. “I’ve been president of the board for three years.”

When does planning for the next Fantasy Fest begin?

“The first of this month,” he said, “we begin planning for 2015 already. Remember, we announce the theme of next year’s event Sunday morning after the parade.”

Murphy explained that the busy schedule of each board member sometimes makes it difficult to plan the first meeting.

“But we’re all committed and get together the first of October and bring forth our ideas for next year,” he said.

Everyone has their own ideas, he said, and the board goes through them one at a time, dismissing some and setting aside others for further discussion.

“It can take time,” Murphy said, while rubbing his bearded chin and grinning. “Sometimes a cocktail helps.”

Once the theme of next year’s event is announced, the call goes out for poster and T-shirt designs.

“One of the hardest things, I believe, is choosing the artwork for the poster and T-shirt,” Murphy said. “We get so many good designs, it’s a real challenge. And the artwork comes from around the country, not just in the Keys. One year, the winner came from Idaho.”

Murphy said once the theme is decided, the poster and T-shirt designs chosen, everything else falls in place.

“You need to remember, this has been going on for a while,” he said. “Once it begins to flow, it’s almost on autopilot.”

Even autopilots sometimes malfunction.

Murphy nods his head, scratches his beard again and grins. “Yeah,” he said. “The only time that really was messy was when a Hurricane Wilma came through in October 2005 and we had to move the event to December. It was a slimmed down version of Fantasy Fest.”

Even this year, Murphy and other board members pay attention to the Weather Channel’s tropical forecasts.

Change is inevitable, and Fantasy Fest is no exception.

“I think the biggest change has been the official party zone,” Murphy said. “It was needed. No one wants to see half-naked people walking in their neighborhood. People on the street should have plastic cups and it’s good to see so many of them using the recycle bins.”

Murphy gave the city a good score for cleaning up Duval right after the events Saturday night.

“I guess it’s really Sunday morning,” he said. “But by sunrise Sunday, the city has the street looking clean and that’s after how many thousands of people have partied in the zone.”

Another change Murphy is not glad to see is the end of Pretenders in Paradise, a staple for years at the Pier House Resort.

“You talk about the numbers of people who attend Fantasy Fest,” Murphy said, “it’s amazing. That many people and on average, it’s not a confrontational crowd. The people are laidback and looking to enjoy themselves. It’s an older crowd and each year they seem to get older, but they are still here to have a good time.”

With a week full of events, what’s Murphy’s favorite?

“The Masquerade March on Friday night,” he said without much thought. “I love it. It’s a locals’ party where we can all dress up. You see old friends and make new ones. It’s a few hours of local fun for and with locals. I’m there every year.”

What’s next year’s theme?

Murphy smiled. “Good try,” he said. “We’re working on it and everyone finds out Sunday morning. But I assure you, it will be an entertaining and fun theme. I promise.”

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