A parade. At night. With a horse theme.
The folks at Nana Projects are so ready for tonight's Preakness Parade of Lights. They've got their stilt walkers, along with their glowing lanterns, their pony puppets, their pony hats, all backed by a local Dixieland jazz band, Sac Au Lait. The Inner Harbor, they promise, is going to swing.
"We love big parades," says Molly Ross, director and principal artist for the Roland Park-based artists' collective that's the guiding force behind Highlandtown's annual Halloween Lantern Parade."The Preakness Parade is a blast to be in. It's great, marching down through the Inner Harbor and seeing everybody out on the streets. We tend to be pretty wacky, and it's sort of fun to see everyone's expressions. It's just a very joyful event."
Joyful, and brightly lit. This marks the second year since organizers decided to move the parade to the night before Preakness, rather than the Saturday morning a week before. The move has resulted in a more festive display and bigger crowds, says Roz Healy, deputy director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. The 2009 parade attracted a crowd estimated at 25,000 to 30,000.
"We had a lot more people than we had on Saturday morning," says Healy. "People are booked on Saturdays, with soccer, lacrosse, whatever sport their kids are playing in. The evening really helps bring out a crowd; they can come down and have dinner, spend the evening at the harbor."
More than 50 units will be parading along Pratt Street, beginning at 8:30 p.m. with the city's mounted police unit and ending with the N-Full Motion Marching Stallions, a group of kids ages 6 to 18 from the Windsor Mill area. The parade lineup includes floats, a dozen marching bands, a few kinetic sculptures from the American Visionary Art Museum (including crowd-favorite Fifi, the pink poodle), even the Boumi Shriners on their motorcycles.
There will be giant balloons, including a new one of a wizard. ("He's not the wizard of the Preakness or anything," Healy explains, "so he can't decide what horse is going to win.") Batman and Robin are slated to show up. Even the Budweiser Clydesdales will be on hand.
Everything will be lit up (that's one of the parade requirements), making Pratt Street look like an out-of-season Christmas tree. And presiding over all of it will be the Ravens' Willis McGahee, this year's grand marshal.
"I'm still not sure exactly what my official duties are," McGahee wrote in an e-mail Wednesday, "hopefully just greet fans and wave to people.
"This will be my first time at the parade and at Preakness," he added. "I'm usually in Florida, doing my off-season workout. … I'm bringing my mom up. She's pretty excited about it."
The parade had been threatened by city budget cuts; earlier this year, Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake proposed removing money for it from the city budget. But the Maryland Jockey Club and MI Developments, parent company of Magna Entertainment Corp., quickly stepped in as sponsors and kept the 37-year tradition going.
"It's all about community pride," says Healy, who was talking about the large number of local participants in the parade, but could just as easily have been referring to Baltimore's determination to keep the parade going as long as its namesake horse race remains at Pimlico. "That really brings the crowds out, too."
If you go
Preakness Parade of Lights 2010will start at 8:30 p.m. at Market Place and Pratt Street, rain or shine. It will then proceed west on Pratt, turn north on Hopkins Place and disband at Hopkins Place and Lombard Street. The reviewing stand will be set up at the southwest corner of Pratt and Lights streets. Call 877-BALTIMORE (225-8466) or go to promotionandarts.com.