Guess which of Tybee Island’s many public events is the best–attended every year?
It’s not the Pirate Fest, which will descend upon the south end parking lot this weekend, for the seventh consecutive year. Although goodness knows, every hotel and motel will be jammed, the breakfast joints will be overflowing, and somewhere around 26,000 people will wander the Thieves Market, check out the bands and watch the big pirate parade swashbuckle loudly down Butler Avenue.
No, the Independence Day fireworks show draws the biggest crowds.
There’s a caveat, however.
“If you consider the fact that the July 4th fireworks show is a 24–minute show,” points out Paul DeVivo, “and the thousands of people it brings for those 24 minutes, and you look at two whole days and more of Pirate Fest, Pirate Fest is much larger than the July 4th fireworks.”
DeVivo is one of the founders of Tybee Fest, a non–profit, all–volunteer organization that’s essentially a big booster club – the group books, schedules and otherwise organizes most of the big events and festivals on Tybee. Including Pirate Fest.
He’s the big cheese, the grand poobah, the main man, but Tybee Fest has a 12–member committee that works pretty much year–round to pull Pirate Fest together.
“It’s a huge jigsaw puzzle and you have to put all these pieces together,” DeVivio says. “A lot of times you shake them, and throw them up in the air, and hope they all land in the right spot.”
Pirate Fest, for the uninitiated, is essentially a big fair and carnival, and a good percentage of those running the booths, kiddie rides et cetera dress up in pirate garb (“buccaneer” for the men, “wench” for the women) and say things like “Arrrr” a lot.
It’s been a Columbus Day Weekend tradition since 2004.
This year, the Swashbucklers Bash, which traditionally opens the festival on Thursday night, has been moved from the Crab Shack restaurant (where it completely sold out for the last two festivals) to a sweet and roomy tent on the Pirate Fest grounds.
The Bash includes food and drink service, a prize for costumes and “Best Dressed Table,” the crowing of the festival King and Queen, and a performance by the Los Angeles–based, maritime–themed rock band The Pirates Charles.
In 2010, DeVivo “retired” from Tybee Fest, leaving the hard work to others. Not surprisingly, he and his wife were subsequently named Pirate Fest King and Queen.
You can take the man out of the festival, but you can’t take the festival out of the man. “My daughter works for me, and she was still involved with Pirate Fest last year,” DeVivo explains.
“And I kept telling her, ‘I do not want to hear the words Pirate Fest or Tybee Fest in my house or in my office.’ I felt like that was the only way I could get away from it. I had to cut it off, period.
“So she went the whole year doing stuff behind my back, thinking I didn’t know it! This year, we just felt that need to get back involved in it. It’s in our blood.’”
Along with regional bands that impersonate Jimmy Buffett and Journey, and the Pirates Charles, mainstage music will come courtesy some of Savannah’s finest – including the Eric Culberson Band, Wormsloew, the Train Wrecks, the Georgia Kyle Trio and others, plus Tybee favorites Roy Swindelle and the Sam Adams Band.
Kids’ activities include a magic show, a costume contest (for kids and pets), dancers, the Faire Wynds Circus, bounce houses, face painting and various pirate–themed stuff.
DeVivo, whose marketing company publishes the popular Where to Eat At the Beach magazine, says Pirate Fest – and all the other annual events – are created with two things in mind.
Of course, they provide something fun and frolicsome for residents of Tybee and Savannah, but they also go hand in hand with his personal manifesto, which is to make Tybee a desired destination for visitors.
He’s Georgia–born, and he’s a big–time Tybee–booster – and proud of that fact.
“We started tybeeisland.com in ’96, when the Internet was brand new,” DeVivo says.
“I was the guy that went out on the street to all the Tybee businesses and said ‘Hey guys, I don’t know what this Internet thing is, but I think we need to get involved in it.’”
Tybee Island Pirate Fest
Where: South Beach parking lot, Tybee Island
Tybrisa Street to Strand Avenue (oceanfront)
Weekend admission (for Friday & Saturday): $17.50 advance, $20 at the gate. Children 12 & under free
Thursday, Oct. 6
7-11 p.m.: Swashbucklers Bash
$30 advance, $35 at the door
Friday, Oct. 7
One-day ticket: $10
Thieves Market 5-11 p.m.
Little Matey's Cove 5-7 p.m.
5-7 p.m.: Wormsleow
7 p.m.: Opening ceremonies
7:30-9 p.m.: AIA (Jimmy Buffett tribute band)
9-11 p.m.: The Pirates Charles
Saturday, Oct. 8:
One-day ticket: $10
Thieves Market 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
Little Matey's Cove 10 a.m.-7 p.m
Parade: 3-4:30 p.m. along Butler Avenue to the festival site
4-5:30 p.m.: Derogatory
5:30-7 p.m.: Eric Culberson Band
7 p.m.: Costume contest
7:30-9 p.m.: The Train Wrecks
9-11 p.m.: Departure (Journey tribute band)
Sunday, Oct. 9
All events: 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Noon-1 p.m.: Savannah Steve & Debi Burk Scott
1-2 p.m.: Roy Swindelle
2-3 p.m.: Georgia Kyle Trio
3-4 p.m.: Sam Adams Band