“A procession is a participants’ journey, while a parade is a performance with an audience.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
I have been very vocal of my love for a parade. The earliest memories that come to mind are from my hometown growing up in Oakland, NJ. I was real young then. Maybe 6. Maybe. I recall the blaring of firetrucks. Marching bands. An Olympic torch running through town. People yelling and screaming, waving American flags. I think there was even a photo of me in the paper, holding a sign of some sort. Not sure. The energy that day was infectious, and forever coursed through my veins. I live for these “large displays of affection” if you will.
Since this time I have made it a personal journey to explore numerous celebrations, or create them. During my first life as an ad guy, there was much pleasure to be had in the campaigns that involved real life events as opposed to just the printed piece. Making the content was always the fun part so to speak, whether that was holding an indoor triathlon or just something as simple as a photoshoot for a car, there was a tangible aura that kept me going. I loved it. Needed it.
Over the years Philly gave me many, many experiences so powerful, they will forever feul my desire for celebration. Winning a World Series after decades (yes, I’m a Mets fan, but so what). Being first on scene as over 1 MILLION plus people storm a 4 block area downtown in a flurry of tension release. Highly recommend. (Todd Frazier’s Homerun Derby win was a very close second) The second moment, that happens more frequently than Philly championship wins, thank god, is the Mummers Day parade. Now, you’ve never heard of it. Pretty sure. The Mummers is like secret code that you are actually from Philadelphia. For some reason it never really goes national, barely has a reach into the surrounding states, and yet has thrived and grown for well over 100 years. It’s also a much debated “love it or hate it” topic among Philadelphians, but thats a separate article entirely. The mummers parade is a celebration on New Years Day. That takes up the whole day. And a good chunk of the city. It’s considered a folk parade, but has serious Mardis Gras influences. There is much legend and mystique about it, but as someone that lived off 2 street, heard them practice for days and days and days on end, I can tell you (even after having recently been to Mardis Gras) nothing beats their levels of creativity and spirit.
To me, as an artist of…some kind….it’s beautiful. These groups aren’t classically trained. The participants don’t go to art schools, or take classes. Most of the “clubs” are housed in south Philly, home of many a labor union. Electricians. Plumbers. Contractors. Each member has shared decades of tradition, and handed down skills for the next generation to follow and add to. The clubs push each other to innovate in friendly competition. They want the mummer tradition to survive, to add to the weird culture of their home. Entire families get involved in what I can only describe as the largest, longest craft project in history. it’s a 364 day choreographed dance, the likes and logistics of which I have never seen. Until, that is, I visited New Orleans.
Now, this is a separate animal. Much like, you simply cannot compare New York City to any argument or debate with other cities. Nola has this celebration shit down. And on lock. The cliff notes of Carnevalé is, 12 days after Christmas it begins, and they party and purge everyday up until Fat Tuesday, the day right before Ash Wednesday and Lent begins. There are a solid 2 weeks of parades, in almost every neighborhood about town. Yes. Parades. Everyday. For 2 weeks. Now, this prompted much research, and quite frankly deserves an Orwellian sized novel it’s so cool, but again, the energy about this massive release of debauchery cannot be understated.
Cut scene to Cincinnati. The much nationally considered city as the driver of the struggle bus. To be fair, many blue state residents don’t particularly consider anything of value to come from ANY city outside of their collective interstate, nonetheless, Cincy in particular along with Cleveland is the butt of many jokes. But personally one cannot judge until one experiences, and living and visiting are two different things. I have lived here, officially, for 5.5 years now. Still an immigrant, but well ingrained in the psyche of a city. One I can wholeheartedly say is broken. (que hisses)
Cincy has it’s celebrations. They are, based on size, Opening Day, Oktoberfest, Taste of Cincy, Northside 4th of July, Midpoint, Bunbury, Beerfest, Bockfest, countless other festivals (sausagefest, goettafest, Italianfest). Now, there are festivals, and then there are celebrations. Some add to the cultural foundation of a city. They need time to grow by seeding the notion that a visitor could live in said city to continue on a journey of learning and giving back to said culture. Some, just put butts in the seats. I’ll leave it to you to decide which celebrations here leave that lasting impact, but I can tell you the one that should. Bockfest. The cliff note of Bockfest, it’s the celebration of the coming of spring and the beginning of the fast by many a monk who chose to drink Bock beer to sustain themselves. So, it’s not unlike Mardis Gras. “Hey guys we have to get all Christian tomorrow, so let’s have some fun first.”
When I first moved to Cincy and stumbled upon this weird little party, my celebration sense tingled. I couldn’t wait till the next year where I’d figure out how to be involved in the parade itself. So for the next three years I was. Building parade floats is an extremely daunting experience. Requires many hands. A fair bit of money. And many, many long hours. It’s mentally and physically exhausting. And probably some of the most stressful work I’ve ever done. Logistically it’s a nightmare. Short time frames. Limited budgets. Lack of workspace. A multitude of skill sets needed for production. Not fun. But when the pieces come together, and you are finally taking that mere 10 minute walk. It’s lightning in a bottle.
Unfortunately, bottles break. I cannot express emotionally, how far you can fall, when you are feeling so high. Positives turn to negatives, and sometimes you just need a break. So for my first time here in Cincy, I had absolutely nothing to do with Bockfest this year. Not a single beer. Not a single brat. I just worked at a slew of places not even mentioned in any Bockfest literature. Being on the outside was interesting. I can’t tell you haw many, “so what the hell is going on?” questions I had to field over that weekend. “Really?” I would think to myself. Is Cincy still that disjointed that it doesn’t know about Bockfest? A celebration happening in it’s own backyard. A celebration it can literally call it’s own. Something that defines it’s nature. It’s history. Because that is what this place is severely lacking.
Years, a story does not make. The path this city has followed, like many midwest cities, is a lethargic one. Not rooted in any particular cultural battles. just a simple industrial town, nothing to see here folks kind of place. I’d put it right up there with middle child syndrome, not the first and certainly not the last. Oft feeling forgotten but truth is that it is self imposed. Cincinnatians are too humble for their own good. Too many non-followers rather than participants. And too stubborn in thinking. OTR needs more from the creative community (what little there is here, it’s just unaffordable), especially in regards to Bockfest. By many means it is still an OTR celebration and institution. But the 52 neighborhoods here remain divided. That comes from a culture of segregated thinking, not a unified goal. Sure, everyone can come together for Opening Day, as they crowd the streets of Central Business District. OTR residents know the streets up here are a lot more clear, and safe despite what may have happened here 15 years ago. But surely a “coming of spring festival” is something we can all agree on. Something we can all make great.
Cincy needs a little moxie. My dream for Bockfest? Each neighborhood puts together an “Order.” An order in this case is like a club (mummers) or krewe (mardi gras). These neighborhoods use what they got, school/local bands, warehouses, small business support. They organize starting the week after Bockfest, begin planning next years theme. They hold sausage cookouts over the summer for fund raising efforts, involve whole families in the production process, maybe even create fundraisers for other local charities as well. Maybe their “houses of order” are all along McMicken in the Brewery Distrcit. They come, represent their little part of the city in the parade. The parade that celebrates the heart of Cincinnati, not some random, drink it once a year beer. They show up for pride. They show up for competition. Maybe the winning neighborhood wins some capital funding dollars. They show off a little. They trash talk a little. There is one Stanley Cup-ish trophy that is engraved and passed around each year. They throw trinkets and convince some out of towner that Cincy, might have more to it than you think. It might. I want it to. You want it to. But as other cities start putting their best foot forward, it’s time to prove it.
That’s a lot of weight to put on the shoulders of one, very small festival. To ask them to fix the culturally devoid, split-minded city of Cincinnati. But it’s from the sparks that you start a fire. 100 years from now, I would hope my actions, in some weird round about way, convinced someone to be a positive impact in their own city. Wouldn’t you?