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Reflections on Clearwater St. Pete Beach, 2006

DCGreeks.com's Review of

the 15th Annual Clearwater, FL YAL Memorial Day Weekend Convention

June 7, 2006

The ability of a simple change of latitude to set the tone for an entire convention is astounding. This year’s move of the Clearwater Convention from Clearwater Beach 20 miles south to St. Pete’s Beach meant less locals, longer trips, and a concert with lower kefi than in years past. These points can’t detract from the fact that this convention still gave over 1000 young Greek-Americans (and Greek-Canadians) from a seemingly more diverse parts of the continent than ever before, five to six days of fun, friendships, and memories.

To dwell on the location of this year’s convention and its venue at the Tradewinds Resort may be moot given the possibility of a change in venue next year. The chances of the convention returning to Clearwater Beach next year are still up in the air. It wasn’t last year’s hurricane season that spelled the YAL’s ouster from Clearwater Beach; it was simply that none of the available hotels wanted the event and hundreds of partying Greek-American young adults back this year. The Tradewinds may have appreciated the business and may invite us back next year; but if there’s any way to get the convention back to Clearwater Beach, the YAL should try its hardest to make it happen. It’s not that the Tradewinds was the wrong venue, but it certainly wasn’t the best venue.

Before turning to what could have better with this year’s Clearwater Convention, let’s talk about what went right. 

The theme of Thursday night’s Greek Night, “The White Party” worked well. The vast majority of people wore white, even those who didn’t get the memo were able to scrounge something out their suitcases. Peer pressure is a marvelous thing as even some who felt that they were above a silly theme party went back to their rooms and changed into something more fitting with the theme. It was a great equalizer – even unifying in the way an entire room was able to be transformed into a group of 18 to 45 year olds who checked their egos or self-consciousness at the door, let their guard down and celebrated with hundreds of their fellow Greek-Americans. (And the fact that it made for great pictures wasn’t bad either.)

The spiritual discussion seemed to attract a record amount of participants this year. Having church on Sunday onsite in one of the hotel ballrooms also contributed to higher attendance we imagine. (We weren’t at the Sunday service, but we heard from both those inside and those who happened to walk by and peer in that it was nice.) One of the take-home messages of the spiritual discussion was “making the best of what you had on any given day” – a message that frankly the organizers of the convention should always keep in mind. (More on this later.)

The Tradewinds Resort, as an all-inclusive resort, was great in how it made the days better for those who stayed there. The perks, including free cabanas and beach towels, and the ability to charge things to your room made it so all you needed on the beach during the day was your room key. This allowed for a steady flow of people between beach, pool, the bar, and food options, which made people able to stay active during the day more comfortably.

Where the Clearwater YAL Convention gets high marks is in its willingness to take risks in the hopes of having Greek-American guys meet Greek-American girls for something that lasts longer than the weekend. The newest attempt at this was the Dating Game, which took place poolside on early Friday afternoon. This effort featured bravely blindfolded bachelors and bachelorettes asking questions of three other singles to the smiles, laughs, and groans of those who happened to be within earshot of the megaphone. It was a cute concept, but judging from the first round, which frankly was all we could stomach, was devoid of any substance, particularly among the guys participating. Next time a simple screening could avoid a bunch of kids blurting unintelligible answers laced with some Greek profanity that made the audience laugh but not exactly understand why, topped off with nervous refrains of “you know what I’m sayin’.”

Speed Greeting Dating unfortunately failed to ride the momentum that was started with the successful second night of the event last year, which rumor has it led to an engagement or a marriage. Scheduling only one night versus two nights last year at least prevented the disappointing cancellation suffered on the first night last year, and starting it at 7:00 and running it until 10:00 gave the organizers enough time to pull in more people from the hallway to get them to participate at 8:45 when things finally got started. We need to give credit to the primary facilitators of this event, Tom and Soula, whose efforts to bring people into the room and get them to stay would have put a Tout on Ios to shame. (Tom buying all the ladies in the room drinks to get them to stay was a particularly noble touch.) Still, the number of participants seemed less than less year, or less than should have been expected after a successful second night last year. Next year they should provide an open bar and lock the doors behind everyone to ensure that they retain the curious people who take a peek inside the venue to check out what’s on the menu but then don’t stick around for dinner. We are confident though that next year, the third time will be a charm and this event will be one of the highlights of this convention for years to come.

The location of St. Pete’s Beach kept the locals away from the beach and the hotel events and kept the out-of-towers away from the concert and the dinner on the last night and prevented any alternative field trips to Tarpon Springs. Clearwater Beach was typically filled with local Greeks from Clearwater and Tarpon Springs with seemingly two-month head-starts on their tans. You couldn’t walk more than 10 feet without running into a Greek. St. Pete’s Beach lacked this local crowd. Why would a local Greek-American drive 40 minutes to an hour to go to St. Pete’s Beach, particularly on a Thursday or a Friday when they had a perfectly fine beach of their own that they are used to frequent much closer to where they live? The same thing could be said for the events on Thursday and Friday night at the hotel. The location kept many Greeks except for those who may have bothered to rent a car from going into Tarpon Springs, which was now an hour away and a prohibitively expensive cab ride. This also invariably contributed to keeping people away from the concert and the dinner dance, for those who couldn’t see themselves waiting for a 40-minute bus ride to either event.

The Tradewinds Resort itself looked impressive from the outside but once you got into the rooms and needed to rely on service, the impression quickly changed. This is a family resort better equipped to handle families with three screaming children than hundreds of drunk Greek-Americans, who while they don’t expect much, require a basic understanding of their needs and the schedule on which they are running during the long weekend. You don’t send housekeeping around at 9:00 in the morning and you better make sure that they are done before 5:00 in the afternoon. All that sun, all that alcohol, and all those late nights require most Greek Americans, particularly those with 60 hour a week jobs to sleep in and take an afternoon nap to possibly survive five days of the Clearwater YAL Convention. When you pay an insane amount of money for an all-inclusive resort, you at least hope that the rooms are nice (which they weren’t as nice as one would have expected given the rest of the amenities) and that they are made up by the time you return from the beach.

The concert was probably the biggest disappointment of the weekend. As a largely captive audience with the inability to go to Tarpon Springs or anywhere else that evening, those who went nonetheless hoped for better entertainment than some dude from Fame Story 4 as the headliner and some other dude who wasn’t the dude from Fame Story 4 to back him up. For as much fun as we made of Sarmbel or Sarbel or however you want to spell it last year, that “Sokolata” tune of his was an instant hit the first time you heard it at Clearwater last year and remains a hit today. We can’t even remember a song that either of those guys did a week later or even the next day. We understood more about this odd pairing of artists when we learned that this wasn’t part of a U.S. tour; that the promoters just flew them in and out for the weekend. We counted two singers, two back up dancers with the same sequence of moves for every song that could have been mastered by even the most choreographically challenged, a bongo player that looked like Paul Schaeffer from the Late Show with David Letterman, another drummer, and a DJ. There was no real live band, which almost always leads to less kefi regardless of the artists involved. When even the youngest people in the crowd could sense that they just spend two hours watching “karaoke,” the promoters should have realized that this was not the concert of past years. To give the promoters the credit they deserve though, they are local to the Clearwater area and care enough about their community to fly in entertainment independently of a tour specifically for the weekend and donate a portion of the ticket sales back to the YAL; at $40 a ticket, no one should have felt like they didn’t have a good time.

Speaking of live bands, we were disappointed to not see a live band at the dance on the last night of the convention. While we’re not saying that the DJ didn’t do a good job, it’s an unwritten rule of every convention, that while you can start with DJs for Greek Nights, the final night needs a live band. Laika just aren’t the same without five guys in black, preferably one with a klarino, sweating it up on stage. Yes, DJs are better with the new stuff, but after two nights or three straight nights of club music, everyone wants to get back to basics. It’s the reason everyone gets dressed up in suits and dresses and cleans up so well.

Making the best of what you have on any given day…

We’ve probably mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The best thing that the Clearwater Convention has to offer that no one else has is a beach on the warm gulf coast. The organizers need to do more to take advantage of this. Hotel Parties are great for Chicago in February or DC in November. What Clearwater needs more of is open-air parties on the beach with tiki torches and fireworks displays over the water. (Incidentally the hotel did have fireworks on one of the nights when all of us were away at the church.) It needs pool parties with guys on acoustic guitars being relieved by guys on unplugged bouzoukis. If there are going to be concerts, they need to be outdoors as well, with acts that you can’t see anywhere else (and of course, acts that people actually want to see.) If there are going to be busses going to the church, pay a little extra and send those busses to Tarpon Springs and bring a little business to local Greek-American economy.

Why nothing we’ve said thus far really matters…

All the praise or constructive criticism that we can dish out can’t change the essence of the Clearwater YAL Convention. In fact, the move to St. Pete’s Beach this year proved it. You can take the Convention out of Clearwater but you can’t take “Clearwater” out of the Convention. The Clearwater YAL is the heart and soul of the effort to provide an opportunity for an increasing number of Greek-American young adults a long weekend of fun and relaxation and a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones. The outgoing nature of the convention staff is contagious and inspiring. It’s what leads to people from all over the country to introduce themselves to each other in the lobby, at the pool, and even on the bus rides to the concert and dinner dance. It’s this group of young adults who care about sacrificing their weekend for the sake of the rest of us that makes up for any change of venue, any event that didn’t turn out the way it was planned, or any other disappointment that one might have faced.

We hope that everyone had a great time at this year’s Clearwater Convention and that the Convention finds its way back to Clearwater Beach soon. Again, there is no place else we and 1,300 other Greeks would have rather have been on Memorial Day Weekend.

Photos from the 15th Annual Clearwater YAL Memorial Day Weekend

Date

Events

05/24/2006 Welcome Party at The Tradewinds
05/25/2006 Hanging Out on the Beach
Santorini Nights
05/26/2006 Hanging Out at the Pool
Grecian Glamour
05/27/2006 Perikis and Konstantinos Pantzis
Live in Concert
05/28/2006 Dance at Matheos Hall

 


 

Read past feature articles