Normally I review events after experiencing them – which seems only fair. However when commenting on infrequent events, the reading public can only then bemoan that they were unaware – so what’s the purpose? On this singular occasion I offer advance notice. On Saturday, June 20, you can enjoy the 33rd Annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade – watching or, upon same-day registration, participating. The parade is billed as the nation’s largest “art parade” and commemorates the start of summer; it is the warm weather counterpoint to the West Village’s Halloween parade. King Neptune this year is Mat Fraser; the Queen Mermaid is Julie Atlas Muz, husband and wife in real life and both performance artists with impressive resumes in a variety of styles and venues for audiences of all ages and colors – including, notably, blue.
The official website solicits volunteers as parade judges – for a sufficient contribution – which assures you a place on the reviewing stand, a tee-shirt and as many bribes as you can glean, but those positions are said to sell out quickly.
This year the parade commences at 1 p.m. but the crowd starts gathering long before in the environs and perhaps 90 minutes beforehand on the parade route. If the day is to be warm, equip yourself with a hat and a bottle of water and, perhaps, a camera.
The crowds are often thick so gird yourself for what may be a wonderful ordeal. Personally I come early and walk the boardwalk, watch the preparations and talk to the participants who have been, to a man, woman or otherwise, open, generous, gracious, joyful and proud.
No, “Rite of Sprung” is not a typo. “Sprung” because the Parade falls, always, on the first Saturday of summer; spring has just sprung when these festivities spontaneously combust. And “sprung” because everyone is let loose – to do or be as they are in their wildest oceanographic dreams.
Yes, you guessed the theme: mermaids, mermen, LGBT sea creatures of all sorts, pirates, fish, bivalves, crustaceans, whatever strikes your conch-iousness, many in fin-baring gets ups and outrageous makeup.
The marching hoards and gawking visitors are sustained and entertained by Nathans and a dozen other fast food emporia, smooth talking buskers and gaming hosts, and rides for children of all ages – although infants in the crush of the parade may feel overwhelmed, and some costumes may be deemed too risqué for the very young.
Enjoy an icy beer and a couple of dogs, clams on a bun – fried and slathered with tartar sauce, corn dogs, corn on the cob, onion rings, French fries, burgers, pizza, all those things common sense tells you to bypass (but the sun and briny bite in the air encourage.)
The D, N, F or Q trains can take you to Stillwell Avenue a short walk from the parade route. As of this writing, the 2015 Parade will start off at a staging area on the corner of West 21st Street and Surf Avenue, proceed up Surf Avenue to 10th Street, then turn right to the Boardwalk and double back to 15th Street.
The judges viewing stand is at West 12th Street on Surf Avenue. The Parade route is approximately 3500 feet. However the route should be confirmed on-line before you leave home if you require precision in your planning. Once the parade has begun, it may be very difficult to cross the route so plan accordingly if you might wish to make a get-away.
Photos by Fred Cohen. For more information go to Fred Cohen Photography.