As the Southernmost City's One Human Family tonight wraps up another successful Pride celebration, the Key West Business Guild, the nation's oldest gay and lesbian chamber of commerce, is already looking ahead four months to its biggest annual fundraiser and a premier Fantasy Fest event - the Headdress Ball.
Now in its 32nd year, the ball features over-the-top costumes and performances in an event that's "head and shoulders above the rest," literally.
Founders of the Key West Business Guild created the Headdress Ball as a costumed Fantasy Fest competition during the fest's fledgling years - long before it became the week-long extravaganza of excess.
"Headdress Ball is grand evening of high performance and not a lot of rules," said Business Guild Executive Director Guy Ross. "We celebrate our One Human Family and hope everyone remembers that costumes are the only things that belong in a closet."
The event is a combination variety show and costume contest, with contestants being judged only on the embellishments from the shoulders up.
And the embellishments get bigger and more creative every year, as layers of beads, sequins, ribbons, feathers, rhinestones and fruits defy gravity while perched upon a contestant's head as they strut their stuff on stage at the Southernmost on the Beach Hotel.
Between contestant cat walks, local musicians, dancers and other performers entertain the enthusiastic, sell-out crowds.
Those crowds are already eager to see how the headdressers interpret this year's theme of Animelistic Head Trip - a play on the words of the official Fantasy Fest theme, 'Anime'ted Dreams and Adventures.
"I'm expecting to see some great costumes and designs, using the animalistic play on words, more than the specific Japanese anime, said event chair Gregg McGrady, who takes the organizational reins this year from Pete Arnow, who has headed up the Headdress Ball for the past 22 years, and will finally get to enjoy the show as a spectator on Oct. 21.
Arnow has moved with the ball from its humble beginnings in Duval Street bars to its long run at the former Atlantic Shores, and now to its current home at Southernmost on the Beach Hotel.
"Technically, it's in the exact same spot as it was at Atlantic Shores. It's just the hotel that surrounds that spot changed," McGrady pointed out, adding, "I'd love to see things like Medusa, sea creatures and any other over-the-top animalistic adventures."
He also is introducing a new fundraising aspect of the Headdress Ball this year, and will auction off an original piece of art by local artist Sean Callahan that interprets this year's theme.
The original work will be auctioned live during the ball, while signed, limited edition prints will be sold during signing parties leading up to the ball, McGrady said, in an effort to increase proceeds for the business guild.
He marveled at the amazing work Arnow has done with the event for more than two decades and said he is humbled to follow in those footsteps, and eager to work with business guild Executive Director Guy Ross and the guild's amazingly active membership.
Money generated by the Headdress Ball allows the Key West Business Guild to continue its mission of supporting and promoting Key West as well as its gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses.
McGrady is working on new sponsorship opportunities for local businesses.
"It has been my main goal to spruce up and maximize what we are offering local businesses in return for their sponsorship dollars," he said. "As a former business owner, I truly understand the importance of spending promotional dollars, and we want to be sure each sponsor is happy with the return on their investment in this year's Headdress Ball."
This year's event takes place Oct. 21. Tickets are already available at keystix.com and more information is available at headdressballkeywest.com.
For sponsorship information, call Gregg McGrady at 305-923-3147 or Gregg.McGrady@gmail.com.