Big Easy Boosts Music City Christmas Parade

Among many parade figures on display at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans is this bust of a motorcycle patrol officer. Photo by Clint Confehr

By Clint Confehr

NEW ORLEANS LA — When Americans watch Nashville’s Christmas Parade in person or on syndicated TV shows, they’ll see artistic achievements from Mardi Gras World at the Port of New Orleans.

Nashville’s Nov. 7th parade starts at 8:30 a.m., goes down First Avenue from City Hall to Broadway, turns right, and proceeds up hill to go by Bridgestone Arena for peak performances with floats made by Kern Studios along the Mississippi River.

“It’s a parade up to a point,” show director John Best says. “Then it’s a television broadcast where performances start for the cameras.”

Piedmont Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, is the two-hour parade’s biggest sponsor. Parade video is edited for a one-hour show in America’s top 150 TV markets during the holiday season.

“We hope everyone in the community comes out to enjoy the fun,” Piedmont spokesman Stephen Francescon Jr. says. Several years ago, the utility turned to Nashville’s visitors and convention business to make Music City’s parade a nationally-televised event.

Music City has New Orleans-based Kern Studios for complete parade services, and JM Best Entertainment of Orlando, Fla. to organize a live show on WKRN TV. It’s rerun Sunday, and then edited for syndication.

“Television reenforces the fact that Nashville is a place that families should come and visit,” Kern Studios President Barry Kern said at Mardi Gras World, a New Orleans tourist attraction.

Nashville’s Christmas Parade transforms a row of honky-tonks into family fun in an all-kinds-of music city.

TV production started in 2016 with five-time EMMY winner John Best of JM Entertainment. He’s an executive producer for Tennessee Holiday Productions with Hard Drive Productions President Pamela Bolling, and Skyway Studios CEO Julie Carell Stadler, co-founder and proprietor of Dance Network online.

“I remember when my children were in the parade from their Sunday school class,” says Stadler. Her father is the namesake of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, the parade’s beneficiary.

Stadler says Genice Brice — previously a community relations professional for Nashville’s gas utility — wanted to greatly improve the parade, “so she talked to Barry Kern and looked up the best parade producers in the U.S.”

Kern visited Nashville and watched the parade. “The next year,” he said, “I brought in the people we work with.” Kern employees “build about 500-600 floats a year. New Orleans is one of the few place where you have enough business” to support artisans designing, building and producing parades.

For Nashville’s parade, “We’ve got a really cool gingerbread house,” and for the hospital, “a beautiful riverboat,” Kern said of a three-section “articulated” float operated with a second steering wheel like one on a hook and (aerial) ladder fire truck trailer.

There are more floats, balloons, and performers including: “The Voice” finalist Kirk “Kirk Jay” Johnson, a black country musician and singer living in Montgomery, Ala.; and the cast of “Aladdin & His Winter Wish” (playing Dec. 12-22 at TPAC) starring Damon J. Gillespie who’s appeared in NBC’s “Rise” and “Empire.”

2019 continues a transition from grand marshals. James Shaw Jr. was 2018’s community hero for disarming a gunman April 22, 2018 in Antioch’s Waffle House.

“Think about parades with floats, giant balloons and Santa,” Stadler said. “What’s missing was kids. A parade needs a heart; a cause for the town to get around and the country to feel.” This year, the community hero is Children’s Hospital ambassador Lily Hensiek. She was diagnosed with leukemia at age 7. To end childhood cancer, Lily raised more than $2 million for Children’s Hospital initiatives. She’s studying to be an oncology nurse and increases Nashville’s national appeal.

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