By Carol Tedesco
The annual Bud Light Fantasy Fest parade doesn’t roll down Duval Street until Saturday, Oct. 29, but for those who prefer to be the spectacle, rather than the spectator, the time to get creative is now. While some parade entrants embrace the small and spontaneous, the multi-award winning Lower Keys Fluffers team has created parade extravaganzas for more than 10 years.
Keys Weekly caught up with one of the Fluffers founders, Chris Godlewski, for an insider’s look at their labor of love.
What year did your team first enter the parade and how did it come about? It was 2010, the theme was “Habitat for Insanity” and our entry was titled “Habitrail for Depravity.” It featured a human “hamster” running inside a larger-than-life-sized hamster wheel. We had 70 or so people dressed as hamsters in fur costumes — that’s where we got the name Fluffers. It all came about when my husband, Steve, some friends and I were watching the 2009 parade and were disappointed by the number of rented (pre-fab) floats. One friend said she could get a trailer if I could round up a team of people and the rest is history. Ten or so of our closest friends split into committees to orchestrate the project components, including float design and building, costume planning and creation, and logistics, such as who will drive the float, how we will get it to and from the parade site, as well as music, signs, beads and bottle labels etc.
Wait, bottle labels? Some Fluffers had previously been on other floats where they gave out a few bottles of wine, so we started making custom wine and liquor bottle labels from our very first year. … In 2019 for the “In Tune But Off Key” theme, we had a Fluffers Winery “Altar Boy Red” for our “KEYthedral” float. It’s not meant for drinking as we use the cheapest bottle we can find.
Did your group learn anything crucial from your first parade experience? We learned to never, ever wear fur again. The hamster costumes were hot, the fur shed and stuck to our skin; it was horrible.
Do you have a personal favorite among your team’s creations? My favorite so far was our “Old Town Funk” Star Wars-themed float for the 2015 “All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show” theme, complete with a take on the famous cantina scene and a F-wing fighter jet.
Having participated in 10 parades, what advice can you share with others thinking about entering a float for the first time? It’s challenging in the beginning because you have to figure out everything from finances, to the sound system, to drivers who can maneuver a float. We are self-financed, so we aim to keep the cost very low, but it has to cover costumes, float construction, beads, beer etc. We traditionally have about 100 participants, but at $125 per person we need about 70 to 80 people to make the numbers work. I’d consider the must-haves to be a great core group of 10 talented and hard-working individuals, plus a good trailer, truck, sound system — and a generator.
The Fluffers have won in numerous categories over the years, including the Grand Prize. What do you do with your cash winnings? We donate half the prize to charity and spend the other half on a celebration party. So far we’ve donated more than $10,000 to local charities, including the FKSPCA, Sister Season Fund, and Friends of Bahia Honda following hurricane Irma.
Any mishaps along the way that you can share? In 2015 or 2016, as we were lined up for the safety inspection, the fire department noticed we had a broken axle. I’m still not sure how it got done, but some of our building team convinced a welder to drive out to the staging area and we had it fixed and re-inspected within minutes of the start. Other floats had already started to roll.
Final thoughts about being part of the Lower Keys Fluffers team? We are a team that likes to compete and put in our best effort, and we love to see all the other great creative floats, too. The nights we’ve spent building and creating in our driveway, the close friendships formed… While it’s not what you’d call easy, it’s also more fun than you could possibly imagine. We want every year to be the best parade, so please come and join us.Fantasy Fest 2022 is presented in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. Full details and a parade application form are at FantasyFest.com/Parade.