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b>KEY WEST, Florida Keys — With activities ranging from a “drag” race for female impersonators to an exuberant sea “battle” featuring tall ships, the Conch Republic’’s 10-day birthday party is set for Friday, April 19, through Sunday, April 28.

Showcasing the republic’s eccentric spirit, the 31st annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration commemorates the Florida Keys’ secession from the United States following a 1982 U.S. Border Patrol blockade that virtually stopped traffic on the only road from the mainland.

In protest, local officials staged the secession. After announcing the Conch Republic’s birth, they declared “war” on the mother country, pelted federal agents with stale Cuban bread, surrendered after 60 seconds and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid.

Today patriots throughout the Keys fly the royal-blue flag of the republic, whose motto is “We Seceded Where Others Failed,” and celebrate the secession’s anniversary each year with a lively series of events.

As well as the drag race and sea battle for sea dogs and wenches, festival highlights include the World’s Longest Parade, named because its sea-to-sea route down Key West’s Duval Street proceeds from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The unique parade features the Second Time Arounders, an adult marching band made up of former high school, college and military band members ranging from age 18 to 85.

The festival’s oldest event is the Conch Republic Red Ribbon Bed Race, a charity race of decorated beds on Duval Street. Starring racing teams of strange bedfellows, the quirky challenge is billed as “the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on.”

The schedule also includes a pirates ball and pig roast, ukulele festival, Conch Crawl showcasing Duval Street watering holes from the gulf to the Atlantic, two-day arts and food marketplace saluting the Keys’ Caribbean island roots, Conch Republic military muster and sailing race commemorating the Keys’ historic shipwreck salvage tradition.

Event information and schedule:
Key West visitor information: or 1-800-LAST-KEY
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