The Mermaid Parade began, unofficially, more than a decade ago, during Marshall’s French Broad Friday, when a few enthusiastic participants dressed up like mermaids for the festivities. They were a hit, and every year more mermaids arrived until French Broad Friday evolved into The Mermaid Parade and Festival. This year, the 11th annual event of its kind, will take place Saturday, June 2.
“The parade, the pièce de résistance, launches at 6 p.m,” says Hollie West, event chair and vice president of the Downtown Marshall Association. “I have a pirate ship on an 18-foot trailer that is built out of pallets — it’s the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Last year, I put the head of a red Chinese dragon on the hood of my truck. I was pulling the pirate ship, and I had two fog machines going. At one point, we pulled up in front of the courthouse, and I thought my engine was on fire, but the fog was just billowing from the head of the dragon, which made a great effect.”
Last year, the Mermaid Parade grew from a Friday night promenade into a Saturday, daylong festival. Sponsored by the DMA, the town of Marshall and the Tourism Development Association, it is expected to draw more than 500 people to the town, whose population usually tops out at under 900, and to Blannahassett Island, in the middle of the French Broad River.
West says that this year the festival will have more events and more live musical acts than last year. The lineup includes Franklin’s Kite (roots rock and jam), The Sound Chase (blues), Dan Williams (country and bluegrass), the Brandon Quinn Trio (blues, jazz and Americana) and the Milagro Saints (roots rock and Americana).
“We created a triangle to encompass as much of downtown Marshall as possible since we’re only two streets big,” says West, who adds that a shuttle running between the Ingles parking lot on U.S. 25/70 and downtown Marshall will help alleviate traffic and parking issues. “We are going to alternate between the arts and crafts vendor area outside Mad Co Brewing and the courthouse steps for seven hours of live music. And on the island — that is kid central.”
Blannahassett Island will become Splash Island, with an 18-foot water slide, a Slip ‘N Slide and an inflatable bounce house. Boy Scout Troop 521 is grilling hot dogs and bratwurst for a fundraiser, and First Presbyterian Church is hosting a fish fry. “And we have local storyteller Tadd McDivitt telling pirate and mermaid stories,” says West.
The biggest addition to the festivities is the seafood competition cook-off and canned food drive at the old Arts Council building at 90 S. Main St. The contest is for both professional and amateur chefs, and the judges are the attendees. “You get three gold doubloons to vote for your favorite chefs,” says West.
With a $15 dollar entrance fee, the cook-off is the only ticketed event of the festival. “We are partnering with Beacon of Hope, a local food pantry and emergency shelter service,” says West. “For every can you bring, you get a dollar off of your entrance ticket.”
The parade is interactive, with designated areas where the floats and the crowd will battle each other in massive water-gun fights. “There are three official ‘war zones,’ which we will have banners up for,” says West. “So you will be alerted that you are going to get totally soaked.” However, the DMA is shying away from water balloons this year due to the mess they leave behind.
According to West, anyone can be in the parade. She says it’s not a long walk, and there will be props available. “I’ve got 12 clear umbrellas for the jellyfish brigade, if you didn’t bring a costume.”
She adds, “The Mermaid Parade is one of our favorite days in town. It’s one of the busiest.”
WHAT: Mermaid Parade and Festival, downtownmarshallnc.com
WHERE: Downtown Marshall
WHEN: Saturday, June 2, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; seafood competition, 2-4 p.m.; parade 6-8 p.m. Free