When Nadene Grossman Orr took on the role of producing Fantasy Fest less than a year ago, little did she know her inaugural production would carry such a momentous significance to the community she has called home for more than 27 years.
Over the past few weeks, many wondered if Fantasy Fest would be delayed or even canceled in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Not Grossman. Furthermore, Fantasy Fest, the Florida Keys’ largest event, couldn’t come at a better time.
“I never once feared it wouldn’t happen,” said Grossman. “I didn’t cross my mind. One of my first calls was to Andy (Newman of the Tourist Development Council’s public relations machine) and I wanted to make sure we had the right message out, which was the same message we were pushing before the storm. We are giving the power of Fantasy Fest back to our locals — only now, it carries an even deeper meaning.”
Grossman remembers when Hurricane Wilma delayed the festival into December. She said she wants this event to be a symbol of hope and community resilience, not just for Key West, but for all of Monroe County.
“My first year and I get ‘Irmageddon,’” said Grossman with a chuckle. “The festival was already so important, but now that significance has increased. I just keep thinking about ‘One Human Family’ and all those who need work to start the recovery process, and that’s what is driving my team and I right now.”
Even before Irma, Grossman and company made a concentrated effort to involve the entire Florida Keys in Fantasy Fest. And, following the storm, she plans to increase the number of festival stops along U.S. 1, with many of them supporting relief efforts.
“We have been working with sponsors like Tito’s Vodka and we’re creating pit stop parties up and down the Keys,” said Grossman. “We just want to connect the Keys. When we rise here in Key West, I believe it helps us all rise in the Keys. I hope the festival helps our neighbors come online even faster.”
Grossman said she has not lost a single sponsor or festival-related event so far. In fact, supporters such as restaurateur Chris Shultz and Historic Tours of America’s Piper Smith have reached out to find out what more they can do — not just for financial support, but to raise morale as well.
“I think it’s going to be a great event. Nadene is an amazing event coordinator and I cannot be more excited for Fantasy Fest. It will be good to see people back in town … naked or otherwise,” said Piper, laughing.
Grossman, whose many event-coordinating attributes include a savvy digital marketing approach, said she is receiving an overwhelming response online from thousands of followers who simply want to support the Keys. Along with more than 40,000 Facebook followers, Grossman commands another 30,000 through the festival’s newsletter and many have commented saying they plan to tip and spend more at this year’s festival.
“We recently made a social media post about our tourism opening back up here in Key West and it has already reached over 600,000 people,” said Grossman. “And that is what this event is all about. It’s about our locals, throughout the Keys, and how we support one another.”
To enforce her “Power to the People” theme, Grossman has invited many of the heroes who emerged from Irma to participate in this year’s parade, including a prestigious invite to Rick Lopez and the 104.1 FM team who served as the Keys’ only source of communication in the Lower Keys during the storm. She has also reached out to a variety of first responders, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office personnel and other heroes throughout the Keys to attend as honorees.
Grossman said she already knows she will be crying when the heroes march through the parade, but when it’s over she only needs one reward — to hear the words, “Thank you—that was just what we needed.”
Grossman is also the Event Director for AIDS Help and said the king and queen events will continue as planned, including Aqua Idol and Bingo. Funds support AIDS Help clients and residents with unemployment, rent assistance and relocation benefits. Beneficiaries include veterans, elderly, those with disabilities and many others. For more, visit www.ahmonroe.org/royal-campaign, www.fantastyfest.com or go to Facebook for updates.