Parading on the local level

Asheville Parade

Holidays in Oz? Actually, that pretty much sums up life in Asheville for a lot of people.

Parade coordinator Sara Widenhouse took the scenic route to the organizational helm of the 2006 Asheville Holiday Parade. As artistic director for the Firecracker Jazz Band’s floats, she’s immersed herself in the landscapes of China and the Land of Oz.

Authentic New Orleans music — Firecracker’s calling card — is meant to be played outdoors, on parade. So after a summer of well-received impromptu busking sessions on downtown Asheville sidewalks, Firecracker decided to end 2004 with a bang of publicity. Widenhouse — whose husband Je plays in the group — helped design the “Chinese Firecracker” float. The entry was so creative that it won a prize, competing against a formidable lineup of professional entries.

Asheville Parade Poster

“Last year, we were hired by the Asheville Merchants Corporation to put together another entry,” says Widenhouse. “So we made Firecracker Jazz Band in Oz, which featured a tap dancing Tin Man and Dorothy, flying monkeys, Miss Gulch, and all the other characters.”

Invited to serve as parade director for the 60th anniversary edition of the annual event, Widenhouse is keeping things considerably less exotic. She’s emphasizing local culture with a theme celebrating the region (“Holidays Amidst the Mountains”) and appointing a new panel of judges.

“We’re doing things such as selling balloons ourselves, rather than allowing commercial merchandise carts, in order to help support and promote the parade and the community of Asheville,” Widenhouse says.

Widenhouse and her small team of energetic volunteers have attracted significant interest in the parade, which will feature 100 entries — including 25 newcomers. Many who attend this year’s parade will recognize performing artists from the stages of the Lexington Avenue Arts Festival (LAAF).

Among the many attractions at this year’s holiday event will be High Country Cowboys’ 8-foot tall rocking horse and cooks from Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria tossing pizza dough into the cold November air. A release of white doves is timed to coincide with the Snow Queens’ float at the reviewing stand. The Bobcat Stompers, Oakley Elementary School’s clogging team, will kick up their heels atop one float, and the award-winning Paperhand Puppet Intervention — a troupe that performs a pageant with gigantic handcrafted puppets and dozens of volunteers — will be accompanied by the Asheville Circus School’s student stilt walkers, jugglers, and clowns.

Asheville on Bikes will do BMX stunts on a variety of bikes while costumed as famous holiday characters; Earth Fare will float a 28-foot tall turkey balloon in a pilgrim’s hat; and — for the first time — the parade will have its own roller derby queens, the Blue Ridge Rollergirls.

“And, yes, Firecracker will be back,” promises Widenhouse. “Hotter than ever, with this year’s entry: Fire on the Mountain.”

The Asheville Downtown Association enlisted the help of Asheville cartoonist David Cohen to create a souvenir that supports local businesses. He illustrated coloring books with images related to this year’s parade, and the association will sell those for the stocking-stuffer price of two bucks apiece. The proceeds will benefit Eblen Charities.

Colorful posters advertising the parade through original woodblock graphics will also be available, created the old-fashioned way by Handcranked Letterpress, a local retro-printing enterprise.

But Widenhouse concedes there’s a limit to innovation. The parade will end — as always — with Santa Claus.

[Tom Kerr is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]

The Asheville Merchants Corporation and the City of Asheville present the 60th Annual Holiday Parade in downtown Asheville at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18. Info:

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