Having recently moved to the area from Wisconsin, I have many exciting things planned to check off on my Gulf Coast Bucket List. First of which, is something I’ve dreamed about doing ever since I participated in Mardi Gras festivities during my college years long ago. Getting an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at an authentic parade float.

Carnival season kicks off February 15th this year, with the first major coast parade of the season being held in Ocean Springs. Sponsored by Elks Lodge #2501, this will be the 39th year the Mardi Gras parade rolls through the downtown streets. 
Mardi Gras Chairman Phil Quigley told me: “We have always tried to be the first parade on the coast. We have competition now, but love that we have inspired other parades. Our parade has grown from thirteen units in 1975, to close to or exceeding 100 units throughout the years.”

Wanting to see one of these Mardi Gras floats up-close, as the only experience I’ve had in the past is witnessing parades from varying distances and stages of inebriation while fighting through immense New Orleans crowds, I contacted Parade Captain Bob Delaney. He suggested that I meet with the members of the Krewe of Barry, as last year they won both of the parade’s awards, Best Decorated and Best Themed Float.

The Krewe of Barry is community service organization consisting of close family and friends who build a float for the parade each year, as well as coordinate events throughout the year for charitable causes. It was named after Barry Zuber, who along with fellow founding Mike Davis, came up with the idea to start the Krewe in November of 2004 while attending the Peter Anderson Festival.

Starting with nineteen guys, the Krewe has now grown to twenty-four members over the years, each pitching in to help decorate a float based around each year’s particular parade theme.

Hoping to get a closer look at what goes into making what will potentially be another award winning float, I contacted this year’s Krewe of Barry Parade Captain, Peter Barhonovich, who invited me to stop by on one of their weekend “work days.”

When I arrived at the secret location, I saw a large float being worked on by a group of guys, in the midst of what looked to be an outdoor party. With food on the grill, drinks in hand, and jokes flying, I immediately could sense that this would be a fun Krewe to be a part of.

After being introduced to everyone, Barhonovich took me aside to explain how they would be decorating the float to incorporate this year’s parade theme “Coastal Duck Dynasty.”

“Were trying to put a spin on it to where it will blend into the Gulf Coast. So, instead of the “duck commanders,” we are the “fish commanders,” he said.

Their plan is to make it look like a camouflage duck blind, while decorating it with a costal theme by adding fishing poles, crab pots, and artificial crabs. They will then be wearing camo t-shirts covered by yellow rain aprons, like you would wear on a shrimp boat, to round out the theme.   

Next up was my tour of the double decker float, which I was told is approximately fifty feet long, and will be the largest float on parade day. Able to hold twenty-four people, it was originally made from a cotton trailer that was cut in half, and then built up & designed by two of the Krewe members who are engineers in 2007.

Well designed for a successful “gameday,” a term used often by the guys when describing the day of the parade, the float has designated space for DJ equipment and speakers, two bathrooms, numerous drink holders, and plenty of space to hold and store the more than 120 cases of beads that they will use as “throws.”

On the day of the parade, things get started for them around 8am. They’ll move the float to a staging area where they start loading the throws. It takes about an hour to open the boxes, cut open the bags, and load them onto the float. From there, they move to Jackson street and do last minute decorations, and prepare for the approximately three mile, two and a half hour parade journey. Leading the festivities will be this years Krewe of Barry Carnival King, Fred Dummet, Jr. of Pascagoula, riding in the front of the float.

When I asked Davis what his favorite part of the parade was, he told me: “Depends on where your family is going to be. We usually make it a point to stop for a few minutes, toast some champagne to them, and throw them a bunch of stuff.”

Being there will only be twenty-three people on the float this year due to one of the members having hip surgery a couple days before, I’m hoping to convince them to let me cross off another thing from my bucket list, and let me experience throwing stuff off the float as well.

The Elks Ocean Springs parade will begin at 1:00 P.M. Saturday, February 15th 2014, rain or shine. Starting in front of the Ocean Springs Yacht Club, the best place to view the family friendly parade is along Government Street. The parade ends at the Ocean Springs High School, after which an awards party for all participants will be held at the Elks lodge in Ocean Springs.

For more pictures of my visit with the Krewe of Barry visit the Gulf Coast Bucket List Facebook Page here.