By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hilo parade-goers dodged a watery bullet on Saturday morning.
With only a half hour left until go-time, people lined the sidewalk on the mauka side of Kilauea Avenue near the Ponahawai intersection, jockeying for position under the storefront awnings, seeking shelter from the sporadic but heavy fits of rain.
Meanwhile, on the makai side, where fewer building reside, they crowded together under umbrellas and tents, forming bustling little islands of humanity.
But, as if on a timer, as 10:30 a.m. neared, the clouds parted and the sun came out to stay, shining down during the entire 50th Anniversary Merrie Monarch Festival Royal Parade — a lucky thing, considering the event clocked in at more than double it’s usual running time.
“The first unit went out just a minute or two after 10:30 a.m., and the last one returned at 1:30 p.m., so three hours total,” said parade organizer Missy Kaleohano.
“Usually, the parade is an hour,” added longtime master of ceremonies, Penny Vredenburg.
But, she said, in honor of the festival’s important, 50-year milestone, this year’s parade needed to be bigger, better, louder and more fun.
“We’re going to have floats and horse units like you never saw before,” Vredenburg said before the event.
And right she was. The 2013 parade was chock full of floats, marching bands, armed services units, and more. Whereas last year’s parade featured a total of 80 parade units, this year’s saw 170.
“It’s double what it is usually,” she said.
Among the parade’s many superlatives, it also saw more participation of the four-legged variety than ever before — about 80 total, compared to the previous record of about 50 a few years ago, Vredenburg said.
Eight of the ever-popular pa‘u riders representing each of the Hawaiian Islands walked the course, each accompanied by multiple attending riders. On top of that, multiple horse units made up of members representing the Hawaii Horse Owners and other groups, as well as a huge contingent of riders led by Pudding Lassiter at the end of the parade.
Churches, schools, hula halau and companies fielded a seemingly endless stream of floats, featuring live music, plenty of waving children, smiling faces, and gorgeously colorful floral arrangements.
Even Abel Simeona Lui got in on the act, even after his arrest early Friday morning with a contingent of followers for illegally camping and tending a garden on state land near the King Kamehameha statue on Bayfront. As he passed by, Lui earned shouts of support and applause from some audience members from the rear of his flatbed truck float, which featured him and several young followers as they tended to a garden of taro and other traditional Hawaiian crops.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie appeared early in the procession, despite being difficult to see from the inside of a hard-top classic car. With both the driver and passenger doors hanging open, Abercrombie’s white, coupe-style hot rod rolled slowly, flanked by the governor’s usual security detail of large men with earpieces decked out in Aloha shirts.
Other special guests included Merrie Monarch Festival co-founder Gene Wilhelm, who was visiting from his home on Maui to serve as grand marshal; pa‘u queen Genevieve “Jon” Cran; and pa‘u marshal Clement Andrade.
Mayor Billy Kenoi opted to walk the parade route with his wife, Takako, and earned laughs as members of the crowd teased him for straggling far behind the previous parade unit.
While there was plenty to see and hear, some people felt it was too much.
“It’s too long … and there’s too much time between floats,” said a visitor from Oahu who did not give her name.
But Tasha Tangaro disagreed. Born and raised in Hilo, she’s seen a lot of parades, and this one topped the rest, she said.
“It had more of everything,” she said. “It was better. I especially liked the Home Depot float.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.
50th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival Royal Parade
1st place – Halau Na Pua O Uluhaimalama
2nd place – Overcoming Faith Center
3rd place – The Home Depot
1st place – Laurie Lewis – Molokai
2nd place – Faith Kalei-Imaizumi – Niihau
3rd place – Jessica Kaleianuenue Kunishige – Lanai
1st Place – Molokai
2nd Place – Maui
3rd Place – Lanai
Best Pooper Scooper Detail
1st place – Molokai
2nd place – Oahu
3rd place – Hawaii