In Madison County, local folklore tells that, for one day each year, mermaids depart from their ocean home and swim through the currents of the French Broad River to downtown Marshall.
“They come to gaze at the natural beauty that surrounds them, meet their pirate friends and eat, drink and play at the festival and parade given in their honor,” says Rhesa Edwards, vice president of the Downtown Marshall Association. “This is a unique and quirky festival, just like Marshall.”
The 12th annual Mermaid Parade & Festival takes place Saturday, June 8, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. in downtown Marshall. Myriad events are planned in celebration of the magical mer-legend.
An estimated crowd of 1,200 attended last year’s festival; even more nautical enthusiasts are expected this year, says Edwards. Here’s what’s in store for them: Blannahassett Island will transform into Splash Island for the fête, offering an inflatable Slip ‘N Slide, bounce house, toddler zone, games and a water slide for kids of all ages.
A treasure hunt will span the downtown area. Attendees can collect “doubloons” — valid for entry in a raffle held at the Downtown Marshall Association booth at the Madison County Courthouse steps — from local businesses.
Between noon and 7 p.m., visitors can shop from an array of local vendors at an arts and crafts market on Main Street. A new addition to this year’s festival, the market was added after many requests.
And, back by popular demand, a seafood cook-off will take place across from Sweet Monkey 1:30-4 p.m. The only ticketed event during the celebration, the cook-off is $15 and offers tastes of cuisine from more than 10 chefs, as well as the chance to vote for the best pro and amateur cooks. One dollar will be deducted from the ticket price for every can of nonperishable food donated onsite to Beacon of Hope food pantry.
Americana musician Chris Jamison will perform at the cook-off. Live music from local bluegrass, Southern rock and country performers such as Vaden Landers, Back South and Brandon Quinn Trio will take place noon-7 p.m. in front of the courthouse.
The mermaid parade begins at 6 p.m. with exotic costumes strongly encouraged. Floats and bipeds must line up on Blannahassett Island in front of Marshall High Studios by 5:30 p.m.
Three “splash zones,” indicated by blue and yellow signs, will be located throughout the parade route, allowing for participants and audience members to partake in the shenanigans. The festival, however, is moving away from the use of water balloons in favor of a more environmentally friendly experience. Water launchers and other toys are suggested, instead.
Speaking of water — lots and lots of water — severe flooding of the French Broad River within the past year has not created any issues with festival planning, according to Downtown Marshall Association President Hollie West. “The town really rallied to help clean up the island,” she says. “[Marshall] has been epic, from cleanup to mulch nights. I’ve never experienced this anywhere else I’ve lived. It’s truly magical.”
The inaugural mermaid parade took place more than a decade ago at a French Broad Friday event in downtown Marshall, says West, before expanding into a full-fledged festival in its own right. “It was our quirky and artistic individuals who started it. It’s because of [what] Marshall is and what we do as a community,” she says. “Everyone is so unique. It’s just fantastic.”
The Marshall Mermaid Parade & Festival is sponsored by the Downtown Marshall Association, Tourism Development Council and the town of Marshall. Downtown shops and restaurants in Marshall will remain open until 11 p.m. for visitors to enjoy food, drink and after-parties hosted by businesses. Parking for the event is limited. Organizers suggest taking the shuttle, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., from Ingles off U.S. 25/70 to downtown Marshall.
“I’m so thrilled and excited to see the parade grow,” West says. “It’s a lovely reflection of what our town is.”
WHAT: Marshall Mermaid Parade & Festival, downtownmarshallnc.com
WHERE: Downtown Marshall
WHEN: Saturday, June 8, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; seafood competition, 1:30-4 p.m.; parade at 6 p.m. Free