Nothing says the beginning of summer like the famous Coney Island Mermaid Parade.
Coney Island USA will present the 35th Annual Mermaid Parade on Saturday, June 17 and this year is expected to be a one for the ages as Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein will be honored as the day’s Queen Mermaid and King Neptune.
Dick Zigun, the parade founder, mentioned the excitement that has been generated since the two were announced as the stars of a tradition that has become a fixture in Brooklyn. “Even before the parade, I’m getting a bigger reaction to Deborah and Chris than any parade king or queen we’ve had in the 35-year history of the parade,” he said. “Debbie is a superstar and if you check Punk Magazine from 1978, the monster beach bash issues, she was coming to Coney Island before I had even come.”
Zigun was thrilled that he was able to land the two rock legends. “It’s a great feeling especially for no money,” he said. “In order to find a famous person who doesn’t have a conflict that day, usually we ask about 50 celebrities before we find the one that says yes. It’s a big part of my job description and it’s not easy but it’s fun for me because at the end of the parade on the viewing stand, I get to do a little skit with the king and queen.”
He added that the parade has a great rock-and-roll pedigree with artists like Lou Reed, Queen Latifah, David Johansen, David Byrne and Moby having participated in the past.
The parade, which occurs rain or shine, is expected to be one of the biggest yet. “The biggest crowd we ever had was three years ago when we had about 800,000 people,” Zigun added. “If it rains, we still get 300,000- 400,000 people. It’s up to the weather but rain or shine, the parade goes on and people turn out for it.”
There are also new additions to this year’s iteration. “Instead of assembling in the street, we’re using the brand new Ford Amphitheater which has 30 bathrooms, food service and a playground for the kids, and covering if it’s raining before the parade,” he said. “After 35 years, I’m happy to treat wonderful New York city artists who make the parade happen with good accommodations to prepare for the parade.”
Organizing the parade for so long, Zigun realizes what an impact it has made on the borough. “As an artist who not only writes and directs and produces events, I think the Mermaid Parade has turned into an unofficial New York City holiday, not only in Brooklyn but New York City,” he said. “It celebrates summertime and that’s awesome, and I’m proud of that and proud it’s an art parade.
“In 1983, it was the same, just smaller,” he continued. “It was about creating themes and categories that incredible talent in New York City artists could respond to and strut in costume and build floats within rules that had set up. I had no idea it would turn into what it did.”
Thirty-five years also makes this year the coral anniversary. The parade, Zigun stressed, is “sea and ocean related.” And the timing is appropriate, he went on. “Corals in the ocean are in danger because of global warming,” he said. “Some of them are dying.”
The parade typically includes close to 50 cars, 12 marching bands and homemade floats as well as the hordes of costumed participants.
“If people want to register they can do it on coneyisland.com which gets you a better position than if you register that day,” Zigun said.
The Mermaid Parade begins at 1 p.m. at Surf Avenue starting and West 21st Street, and heads to West 10th Street. For more information, visit www.coneyisland.com.