by Paul Wolf
It’s not easy planning a parade – or its post-parade party.
Just ask Arden Barnett, concert promoter, Ardenland founder and logistical wrangler of Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade and Festival on March 18.
“The last three years, we’ve had a high ticket with bigger name talent [following the parade],” he said. “For a lot of reasons, mostly weather, we had a few rough years.”
Barnett explained the decision behind booking three cover bands — Freedom, The Molly Ringwalds and Mustache the Band — for the 2017 iteration of the parade & festival began by Malcolm White in 1983.
“So many people piggy back on this event that doing a $25 or $30 ticket when [parade-goers] have the option for a $5 or $10 ticket [at other venues]… it was a no-brainer. We said, ‘Let’s go back to the original formula, do a $10 ticket, have fun party bands that everyone loves and see what happens.’ We hope that — along with a beautiful day – is the magic formula.”
White echoed and stressed, the headliner is the parade. “The street dance was an after-thought,” he noted. “The party-concert-dance… it got flipped backwards. Then the weather dictated whether or not that succeeded. This year, we said, ‘Let’s go back to the original plan and see if it can work.’ That’s enough. Let’s quit trying to get them to buy a (big) ticket. Let’s give them a party and call it a day.”
In its 34th year, Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade, rebranded last year to honor founder Malcolm White’s late brother, Hal White, is reinventing itself.
“We’re seeing a generational change,” said Barnett, who has been booking bands in Jackson for over 30 years. “We’re getting older and so is everyone around us.”
Barnett has been working alongside White for much of his career, booking bands for Hal & Mal’s and later, for Jubilee Jam and other events put on by the restaurant and bar owner. But when Barnett became involved with [the parade] in the past few years, the goal was to get away from stereotypes.
“We wanted to bring it to more of a true parade situation,” he said from his office in Fondren Corner. “It’s more than just trailers with loud music and kegs. You see that, and it makes you say, ‘Let’s take this to the next level. And that means bringing in a generation of new people.”
White says a fresh faced group of revelers is what is needed to continue the Jackson tradition. “We invite younger and younger people in and include them,” he said. “The key to our success has always been that everyone is invited. If it survives, it has to be attractive to people in their 20’s and 30’s.”
White said his age group will show up as long as they can. “But time moves on. I’m going to lead as long as I feel like it, but someday I won’t. Then I’ll have to turn to somebody and say, ‘Do you want to keep doing this?’ If not, it’s a wrap. Things run a course. They either adjust and become relevant and continue, or they become a column in history.”
Bringing on Barnett means getting his concert promotion agency — and its employees — in the deal.
Jordan Harris Slowik is director of marketing for Ardenland and said, since beginning her work with the parade a few years back, she’s come to appreciate the small details.
“Before I came in, I went to the parade five or six years ago for first time,” she recalled. “I didn’t know about a theme or a grand marshal. But now that I’m involved, I have more respect for what they have done for so long. I think a cheaper ticket will help draw in a broader audience, too.”
It’s Slowik’s job to help educate a younger market — through social media and other channels — about the fun events but also the significance of the theme, too.
“Happy St. Perennial @ Our Bicentennial is the theme and our grand marshals are a delegation of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians,” Slowik said. “It’s teaching the public the significance of it and helping them understand. People my age may not wrap their heads around that.”
Barnett calls the 200 year anniversary, statehood-observing theme a “need to.” White said part of the idea behind it is to intrigue. “Coming up with a theme; that’s the fun part,” he added. “[A theme] that curious people will find curious.”
Barnett said a hope to bring more marching bands to future lineups is on the list, but no matter what, if you build it, as they famous movie line says, they will come.
“This thing has life of its own,” he explained. “In this business, it’s about the event. We want everyone going because their friends are going. I truly believe this year will be tell-all tale.”