© 2022 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Pirates Invade FWB At The 60th Annual Billy Bowlegs Festival

The 60th Annual Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival will be held in Ft. Walton Beach this weekend. Since 1955 pirates have run amok in the city during the three-day pirate-themed event. 

On the first weekend of every June, Captain Billy and the Krewe of Bowlegs invade The Landing downtown and hold the city hostage for the weekend. The celebration includes live entertainment, carnival food, arts and crafts, fireworks and culminates on Monday night with a Mardi Gras style parade down Eglin Parkway known as the Torchlight Parade. This year’s parade will consist of about a hundred parade entries.

Each year Captain Billy Bowlegs and his queen are chosen by the former Captain Billys. This year’s Captain is Todd Bolger. Bolger says he’s excited to invade the city on Saturday and his battle cry is “No Mercy!”

The invasion day is really, really a lot of fun. And, we’ll be invading somewhere about four o’clock in the afternoon. I can’t tell you the exact time because it’s kind of a secret and I don’t want them to be too ready for us.”

A highlight of the event is the annual skirmish between the pirates and the Mayor’s Militia/Reed’s Raiders. Each year the militia defends the city to the best of their ability with loud, yet harmless rifle and cannon fire, only to be defeated by the bandits.

Bolger says the pirates will begin their invasion by sailing around the sound in several large vessels, waving to and joining in on the merriment with the thousands of boats anchored in the waters next to the landing. Then, he says they’ll make their way ashore, “And then when we come into the landing a dock, and you see thousands and thousands and thousands of people at the landing all waiting for you to come up. It is surreal. It is just amazing. Then you get off the boat and go out and invade the city and you put on the invasion. And we defeat Reed’s Raiders and the mayor. It’s a lot of fun and of course once we defeat we share all our treasures, mainly beads and cups and coins with the crowd. We do that for ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes sometimes, until we’re all out. And then jump back in our boats and go.”

The festival was originally put on by the FWB Jaycees in 1953 and held in Cinco Bayou as a water ski show to attract tourists over Labor Day. However in 1955, a pirate theme was adopted and the notorious and legendary William Augustus Bowles better known as Captain Billy Bowlegs, whose alleged dastardly deeds were widespread throughout the area’s waters became the patron pirate. Today, the festival is a full community evolved event. The Greater Ft. Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce organizes the activities with the help of almost two hundred fifty volunteers.

Rachelle Graves is the Event Coordinator for the FWB Chamber of Commerce. Graves says the pirates have reined victorious over the years with an astounding 59-0 record against the militia.  But, she says this year the mayor has a brand new strategy to ward off Captain Billy and his Krewe that’s never been attempted before in the history of the festival, “They just come in full force. Big beautiful boats, lots of pirates, lots of bling and traditionally capture the mayor. We can only hope that the mayor is successful this year. And we’ll see what surprise the mayor has in store. Again, it will be neat because he’s not done this before. So, keep your eyes on the water.”

The festival begins at 3pm on Friday, June 5th and runs all day on Saturday, June 6th. And, the Torchlight Parade begins at 7pm on Monday, June 8th. Again, this year’s Captain Billy Bowlegs, Todd Bolger, “This is our 60th year and my battle cry is No Mercy! So, you’ll see us coming with our no mercy attitudes. It’s always good to be a pirate and say things like shiver me timbers. I hope everyone whose listening gets the chance to come down and see us Saturday at the landing. We’re going to be handing out all sorts of good treasures once we win and also the parade. We’ll be celebrating our victory that night.”

More information on the festival and a schedule of events can be found at www.billybowlegspiratefestival.com.