After a late night celebrating at the coronation ball, Bill Holmes will rise at 4:30 a.m. on Fat Tuesday to prepare for the Gulf Coast Carnival Association’s day parade. He’ll meet a team of volunteers for a 6 a.m. breakfast to cover last-minute details for the much-ballyhooed spectacle that starts at 11 a.m. and involves 75 floats, cars, motorcycles, Shriners’ scooters and marching bands. He’ll then walk the two-and-a-half-mile parade route amid flying candy, doubloons and beads.
“It’s a labor of love,” said Holmes, executive director of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, who has directed the parade for at least a dozen years. “Seeing people excited excites me. I draw energy from watching families having fun.”
Preparing for the Gulf Coast Carnival Association Mardi Gras parades begin in May, when the carnival captain — for 2005, it’s Jerry Munro, vice president of fuel wholesaler Munro Terminal in Biloxi — and his committee determine the theme, float design and logo for posters, doubloons, invitations and other mementos. The Gulf Coast Carnival Association maintains 25 oversized floats, and contracts with a local artisan for float design. About 40 private floats ferry friends through the parade; each float accommodates about 30 people.
“This year, a family from Pensacola has a brand-new float that’s quite exciting,” said Holmes. “Then a local doctor has a huge dragon float with steam spewing from its mouth and eyes that light up. The Shriners will have bigger units than ever before. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for this year’s event. At our float riders party, where we go over the rules, it was the largest ever attended.”
Organizers and volunteers must stay focused throughout the festivities, cautioned Holmes.
“It’s a big responsibility to run a parade,” he said. “If someone gets hurt on the street, you have to take care of it as quickly as possible. You can’t get wrapped up in the party. We have fun, but it’s a no-nonsense kind of thing.”
This year, Holmes has another task, this one less serious and more fun: to one-up Keith Crosby, general manager of the Palace Casino Resort in Biloxi, by wearing the undisputed largest set of beads.
“I am the people’s king of beads,” said Holmes, with a laugh. “About two years ago, Keith said let’s do a bead contest, and I told him nobody beats me wearing a set of beads, so he offered a challenge. TV covered it, and it was in the newspaper. The deal was that the beads couldn’t touch the ground, so I came out on the last flatbed truck of the day parade with a set of aluminum steps that put me 25 feet up in the air. My largest bead was six feet in circumference at the bottom and I had ‘Chariots of Fire’ playing on this huge sound system.
“I pulled up at the reviewing stand in front of city hall and everybody’s screaming that the beads are huge, they’re colorful, they’re gorgeous. We called the beads, ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ It was a fun, fun thing. I hold them up and Keith’s nowhere around, so they declare me the winner and I go on running the parade.
“All of a sudden, we’re rounding the corner of the parade route and somebody hollers, there’s Keith Crosby! He was standing in the middle of a good-sized ball, about eight feet in circumference — you could just see his feet — and he’s in the back of a small pick-up truck. He got the Catholic bishop to proclaim that he had the biggest set of beads, but the people in the street know who won. Once the king of the beads, always the king of the beads.”
Crosby, who calls Holmes “Little Beads Bill,” said he had a proclamation from the Mayor of Biloxi that proved the judges ruled Crosby the winner.
“I know that’s a hard thing for Bill to accept,” he said, with a chuckle. “It was a 10-foot bead, and the only way to wear it is if you’re in it. I bought a $400 old S-10 pickup truck that my son and I modified. And the bead is on the back of that.”
Holmes said he has a surprise ending for this year’s day parade. “One year, we had a jester on the last float who said, ‘That’s all folks,’ at the same time we let loose about 1,000 pounds of confetti,” he said. “We won’t do that again because of the debris, but I have something really good in mind.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.