Every year, at 6:00 AM on the last Saturday of Fiesta, hundreds of costumed marchers start trickling into the streets of King William near Brackenridge High School. They arrive within assigned time slots to find their spot in the line-up for the King William Fair Parade. It’s the day they’ve been planning for, the day they’ve been waiting for — the day they celebrate King William and Fiesta with the rest of San Antonio.
As a long-time Lavaca resident, I try to make it to a few Fiesta events every year. The King William Parade is the only one I make sure not to miss. And I am not alone. Every year, thousands of spectators line the parade route to see this fun, unique, quirky parade. Go once, and I bet you'll be hooked.
Alicia tells me the Fair and Parade have a few key sponsors that contribute financial donations and/or in-kind goods and services — donations which make the Fair and Parade possible.
Those generous sponsors are H-E-B, Frost Bank, Silver Eagle Distributors (Budweiser), UPS, Half-Price Books / Oil Barron Book Club, and the Alamo City Roller Girls.
A few of these are worth noting for their unique contributions:
Every year Half-Price Books donates children’s books to be distributed to kids along the parade route. Oil Barron Book Club members pick up the books each year, sort through them (to ensure no inappropriate books were accidentally included), and then distributes them from the Oil Barron Book Club float.
Many parade route participants also perform on stage in the fairgrounds later in the day. It’s a bit of a trek from the parade end-point back to the fairgrounds, especially carrying musical instruments. UPS often provides transportation on their trucks for these performers.
And every year, The Alamo City Roller Girls provide an invaluable service. Under the direction of Roller Girl extraordinaire ‘Skully Vera’, approximately 40 volunteers serve as the ‘parade wranglers’. They help organize the lineup by assisting participants in finding their spots, and they skate alongside the parade monitoring spacing and pacing, and doing general trouble shooting.
This year’s parade
This year’s King William Fair and Parade will be a good one!
It falls on Saturday, April 29th, starting with the parade at 9am, and closing the Fair at 6pm. Admission gates to the Fair open at 8am and the general admission fee is $20, with no charge for children 11 and under.
You can watch the parade from within the fairgrounds, or if you prefer, you can watch it for free as it travels along Guenther Street and Adams Street.
The theme for this year’s parade is “A Story About Fiesta”. The goal is to illustrate Fiesta’s history through storyline banners that will be carried by neighborhood volunteers. And all the parade participants have been instructed to incorporate the theme into their entries.
In keeping with the theme, all of this year’s Fiesta Royalty have been invited to participate, and Alicia expects a good turnout from them. She said that a few of them may have schedule conflicts, but most plan on participating and are excited about it.
This year’s Grand Marshall is Casa Navarro, the ancestors of Antonio José Navarro, who was one of two Tejanos who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. And Mayor Ron Nirenberg and District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo have been invited to participate.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, this is a Fiesta event I don’t miss. After speaking with Alicia and knowing a bit more about what goes into orchestrating it, I’m looking forward to it more than ever. My usual viewing spot is on Guenther, a block or 2 in from S. Alamo, and I plan to arrive early this year to get a good spot. For me, it’s the perfect way to wind down our annual, 11 day celebration of San Antonio.
In 1968, King William hosted its first Fiesta Fair, which was a block-long art exhibit that was attended mostly by residents of the neighborhood. Over the years, the Fair has grown, both in size and scope. Today, it’s a major Fiesta event that takes up a large portion of the King William neighborhood, with more than two hundred art and craft exhibitors, multiple stages with live music and dance performances, food and beverage booths, a Kids Kingdom, and the Parade. The Fair attracts over thirty thousand visitors every year.
Even in early years, King William residents dressed in costumes, congregated at the Fair, and had a little parade. These early endeavors were small and impromptu, and anyone who showed up in costume could participate. By 1982, the parade was an official and important part of the Fair, and for many years now, the Fair itself doesn’t ‘officially start’ until the parade has wended its way through the streets of the fairgrounds.
Like any big project, the parade has a manager — ‘Chief Parade Wrangler’ is the official title.
Sue Duffy - the original and long-time Chief Parade Wrangler - was instrumental in engineering and establishing the parade, and growing it into the beloved Fiesta event that it is today. In 2017, three weeks after the parade, Sue lost her battle to cancer. Unbeknownst to those working with her, in 2017 she was preparing and grooming them to take over her Wrangler responsibilities. Alicia Spence-Schlesinger stepped in, and has since been the Chief Parade Wrangler. One of Alicia’s first contributions was the start of a new annual tradition — now, the parade ends every year with a “Wrangle On, Sue” banner.
How the parade comes together
I spent some time chatting with Alicia, learning about what goes into this popular Fiesta event.
Alicia told me that planning the parade actually starts more than a year in advance. The first task is to establish the parade’s theme.
“Before this year’s parade day,” she said, “I want to nail down the theme for the next year’s parade so that it’s in the forefront of my mind in the days and weeks following Fiesta. It keeps me motivated to start working on it.” It’s a great strategy, because preparations for the next parade usually start pretty soon after the end of the current parade. And one of the first tasks — lining up parade participants — requires that the theme be established.
Every year, there’s an open application process (from early August to early January) for parade marcher wanna-be’s. The application is available on the King William website along with a description of the upcoming parade’s theme and information on how applicants will be evaluated. Applicants describe their planned entry, how they will incorporate the parade’s theme, and their relationship to King William or surrounding neighborhoods. From these applications, the Parade committee chooses participants — usually between 80 and 85 groups.
The Parade Committee is busy however, before the application process starts. If you’ve been a long-time spectator of the parade, you’ll recognize certain groups that parade year after year — regular ‘fan favorites’ that we look forward to seeing. In the spring and summer, the Parade Committee works on nailing down a list of prior participants they want to invite back — those regular, fan favorites, as well as other groups who have participated on occasion and exhibited an extra ‘wow’ factor. As soon as the application process starts, the committee starts communicating with these groups, inviting them and encouraging them to apply again, and making sure they are aware of the application deadline. There are often several rounds of such communications.
I, for one, appreciate this effort! What would the parade be without the funky costumes and zany antics of the crew from La Tuna Icehouse? Or Anet Alaniz, owner of Pig Liquors, riding by and waving to us, wearing her big pink pig head? Or the toe-tapping music emanating from the flat-bed truck of the Conjunto Heritage Taller? (just to name a few).
At the end of the application process, the committee reviews submitted applications, makes decisions on which groups to include, and communicates its decisions to applicants.
Once the participants are lined up, other preparation activities get underway. Banners telling the story of the theme need to be created and printed; a ‘participants meeting’ needs to be planned and orchestrated (this mandatory meeting for participants provides parade guidelines — things like ‘no confetti’ because it’s a pollutant and hard to clean up, ‘no distribution of business marketing materials’, ‘no peeling off and dropping out of the parade before it’s over’, etc.).
And, the parade lineup needs to be laid out, which is more work than you might think. The Parade Committee needs to glean information from every participating group regarding the scope of their entry — for example, some participants use cars, others floats, others trailers or trucks, and so on (not to mention the animals that occasionally appear, including horses, and even once, a camel). All of this information is used to determine space requirements for each participant, and that results in a ‘lineup map’ that’s used to stage the parade.
On the day before the parade, Alicia and a couple of volunteers ‘work the streets’ where the lineup will take place. Armed with space requirements for each participant, they measure and block out participant spaces in bright pink spray chalk, assigning each space a number that corresponds to a participant’s number. On the morning of the parade, volunteers help participants find their line-up spot.
Every year, the parade starts at 9:00 am sharp, starting at Eagleland, heading west on Guenther to King William Street (where it enters the fairgrounds), to Turner, to Madison, to Johnson, and then leaving the fairgrounds and heading back to Eagleland via Adams Street. The goal is to leave the fairgrounds by 11am, at which point the Fair officially starts.
All-in-all, it’s a very well-oiled machine. Thanks to the groundwork established by Sue Duffy, the planning and management done by Alicia, the volunteer work of John Doski and Ryan Duffy, and the efforts of several other volunteers, the parade usually goes off without a hitch.
Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.