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Planning a Parade for a Fair, Festival or Event
by Sheri Rich, Parade Chairperson, Shepherd Maple Syrup Festival (with additional comments from Kalamazoo CVB)

A parade can be a colorful and exciting addition to a festival and an event that attracts out-of-town people to your community. The key to creating a parade that people want to watch or participate in year after year is organization.

With foresight, your parade can be a successful mix of music, marching units, cars, festival queens, and more, carefully blended to please both the eye and ear. Without organization, the event could be a disappointing combination of music groups spaced too closely, unattractive entries, animals accidentally placed too close to loud vehicles that could frighten them, and so forth. Organization will reduce this sort of mistake. What follows is a suggested method for organizing a parade that can be altered to suit each festival's needs.
  1. Select a parade chairperson and a small committee that has the authority to make parade policy. A high level of enthusiasm and the ability to carry out responsibilities are extremely important for committee members.
  2. Settle on a parade budget. Some possible costs include fl owers for V.I.P.'s, postage, photocopying costs, long distance phone calls, and paying for a band or banners.
  3. Select the parade time and route. Will your parade be your festival's "kick-off" event or "grand fi nale?" As you organize your parade, be sure to drive the route. What will people see? Check out street width and clearance for tall units. Will you need streets closed and traffi c control? Be sure to inform your local police department of parade details.
  4. Talk with your local police department about acquiring a parade permit. Apply for your permit early.
  5. Set an entry deadline. Leave enough time between the deadline and parade day to create the lineup order and then mail out lineup information to the participants. Advertise the deadline in newspapers and on radio stations' community calendars.
  6. Decide on parade guidelines. For instance, some parade offi cials do not allow "for sale" signs to be displayed in car windows. Will your parade be for the locals or will it be designed to attract people from other cities and states? Will you allow units from outside your community to participate? What is your policy on allowing politicians and/or candidates for political offi ce? Will items such as candy, gum, pencils, etc. be allowed to be thrown from a fl oat?
  7. The theme of your parade should determine what units to include. Will it have fl oats? If so, determine what kind of fl oats and how big. Will it have clowns, animals, or children on bicycles? Remember, variety keeps the spectators' interest.
  8. Ask potential participants to complete an entry form that includes their name or the organization's name, contact person's name, complete mailing address and telephone number. Also ask what the entry is. One way to do this is to offer a list of possible entry types like queen (car or fl oat), antique car, fl oat, marching unit, horses (how many?), marching band, car, musical and other.
  9. Also ask for a brief description of the entry. Include the deadline on the entry form along with the names and numbers of people to call if the entrants have questions. It is a good idea to also include the parade guidelines on this sheet.
  10. Keep track of entries by recording each one on a 3 x 5 card so all entries can be organized alphabetically. Include all the information that was on the entry form.
  11. Set up the lineup. This is very important so take time to do it right. One method is to cut pieces of business card size paper. Write the name of each entry on a piece of paper. Use a highlighter to mark the musical entries. On a large table lay out all of the cards so you can quickly look them over and begin lining up your mock parade.
If you have a lot of entries, don't feel overwhelmed. Pull out all your highlighted music groups and divide the parade into units with each one beginning with music. For example, if you have three bands, you would have three units. BandxxxxxBandxxxxxBandxxxxx.

Now you can fill in with a nice blend of entries that might look something like this (VFW color guard, police cars, and fi re trucks have been added to the front of the parade).

Unit One: (1) VFW (2) Police Cars (3) Fire Trucks (4) Band (5) Queen (6) Mayor (7) Parade Marshall (8) Car
Unit Two: (9) Band (10) Scouts (11) Float (12) Queen (13) Car
Unit Three: (14) Band (15) Car (16) Float (17) Horses
Ideally, there would be many more entries between the bands. The above serves only as a model. Once organized, each unit can be assigned a number, which will make lineup easier.
Some Tips:
  • Start with a big opening, something spectacular, your showiest band with police cars and sirens and banners telling what parade it is.
  • Don't place similar entries next to each other.
  • Spread out musical entries evenly.
  • Put marching groups that include small children close to the front so they don't have so far to walk.
  • Keep noisy entries away from animal entries.
  • Put horses at the end and make sure there's someone to follow directly behind them to clean up messes. Marching units don't like to follow horses.
  • Place fi re trucks near the beginning so they can leave quickly in an emergency.
  • Look over the mock parade lineup and visualize the parade. Does it "look" right?
  • Design the parade route so that it circles back to the starting point. This allows participants to return to their awaiting vehicles, prevents participants who have completed the route from fl owing back through the parade while still in progress, and allows you to establish one central command post.
  • Make the parade more special by providing boutonnieres and corsages to the day's V.I.P.'s-the mayor and his/her spouse and the parade marshal. A parade marshal is usually selected by the community because of outstanding community work or service.
  • Contact Shriner groups; they often have very entertaining parade units. They do accept donations.
  • Invite other local festival queens to participate.
  • If the parade is to last 50-60 minutes, it should have 60-70 entries including 5-7 musical groups.
  • Send out lineup information to entrants that includes their lineup number and when and where to lineup.
  • On parade day, have extra people to help lineup the parade. If possible, have the lineup crew wear identifying clothing such as caps that say "parade." Make sure each crewmember has a copy of the lineup order and have them spread out on the lineup route to direct entrants. Parade offi cials along the route with walkie-talkies can help keep things moving smoothly, and the walkie-talkies come in handy in case of an emergency.
  • A videotape of the parade is a great way to analyze areas that need improvement.
  • Ask for criticism after the parade and set new policy for future years. With one parade under your belt, next year's event will be even better.
  • After the parade, send thank you notes to participants and crew. Remember, the more fun you have with the parade, the more fun your spectators will have.

Planning a Successful Event,
Table of Contents

1. Planning
2. Organizing
3. Fundraising
4. Corporate Sponsorship
5. Promotion
6. Buying Media
7. Setting the Image of the Event
8. Operating
9. Buying Music Acts
10. Grounds Attractions
11. Sound, Lighting & Staging
12. Sample Artist Contract and Rider
13. From the Entertainers View
14. Backstage Hospitality
15. Talent Contests
16. Queen Contests
17. Parades
18. Horse Events
19. Rodeo's and Horse Events
20. Farm Youth Program
21. Choosing a Carnival
22. Concessions
23. Legalities and Risk Management
24. Event Insurance
25. Royalties
26. Location/Physical Facilities
27. Grounds and Facilities
28. Office and Staffing
29. Tractor Pulls
30. Estimating Crowd Attendance
31. Festival Evaluation
32. Event Impact Studies
33. Conclusion, Final Word

12 Ways to Kill an Event

Bibliography: Sources and Contributors