Increased sponsorship and merchant buy-in swells Fondren's Zippity Doo Dah Weekend to true queenly proportions.
For the second year of festivities spawned by the Sweet Potato Queens' spinoff from Mal's St. Paddy's parade, the Jackson neighborhood adds a wagon-load of activities to the mix. There's a wagon, too - one drawn by the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales, with open seats for lucky raffle winners.
The popular Arts, Eats & Beats, Fondren's annual spring street party, kicks off the weekend in musical style, 5-9 p.m. today. Festivities then enter a rapid climb toward culmination in Saturday's parade.
Even Sweet Potato Boss Queen and author Jill Conner Browne, who adds a new book to her pile, can't keep track. "It's hard for me to even retain everything that's happening ... it's four or five pages of stuff."
Wannabes, part of the far-flung self-crowned sorority inspired by Browne's best-selling Sweet Potato Queen tomes, started arriving as early as Tuesday for the fun.
Friday tips a hat to the visiting "royalty" with the Saks/UMMC Big Hat Luncheon at Sal & Mookie's, followed by an informal promenade of queens through Fondren.
After Friday night's free Street Dance on Duling Avenue with the Bouffants, queens retreat to the Hilton for the Big Hair Ball, which is also open to the public ($10 at the door).
The Big Hair Ball was inspired by the Mahogany Dream Queens' big Afros in last year's inaugural parade. "I was just wild for them," Browne said, promising "We'll all wear big hair" for the occasion. The late Friday event will benefit Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi.
Family fun crowds the Saturday schedule with the Sal & Mookie's Street Carnival and the Batson Children's Hospital Jump Zone on the Duling Lawn. Fondren merchants are playing, too, with Zippity Extra promos, a continuing Art & Design tour of the district, Krewe of Silly Billy balloon art and fashion show (State at Mitchell), to name a few. Fondren is blessed with even more music, including the Mississippi Mass Choir at 2 p.m. on the Ergon/Clear Channel Stage.
The parade, with the theme "The Amazon: Run Through the Jungle" flows through Fondren starting at dark Saturday. Jackson State University President Carolyn Meyers is the grand marshal.
"This just sounds like fun. ... To be invited to be a part of it was very special," Meyers said.
Browne pledged, "We're going to make her a queen after this year. She has to be the president this year, ride and act like a grownup."
"I've never been a queen before," Meyers said, laughing in delight, "so good things come to those who wait."
Her anticipation level is "pretty high," and she's glad to share JSU Sonic Boom's talents with everybody in sight. She'll be riding in a convertible with the Sonic Boom behind, "so probably half the time, my head will be turned around, looking at them, grinning and clapping."
JSU's Sonic Boom will be at the parade's start, with SPQs at the end because "I want to worship the J-Settes from afar," Browne said of the band's dance team. "I don't want to appear standing next to them. Thirty years ago, maybe. Not today. They're amazing!" she added with an envious chuckle.
Saturday's involvement by Jackson icons the Sonic Boom and the Mississippi Mass Choir is particularly thrilling. "People who have never seen or heard either of those in person are just going to be blown away," Browne said.
After the parade, another free street dance kicks into gear on Duling Avenue, featuring the Delta Mountain Boys.
Last year's first effort attracted an estimated 10,000 people to the Fondren neighborhood. The weekend raised a little more than $65,000 for Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in 2011, Browne said.
This year sees a slew of fundraising arms, including the raffle for a ride on the Budweiser Clydesdales' hitch (winners drawn at 8 p.m. today), crown raffle, car raffle, float entry fees, Fondren Unzipped entry fees, event parking at Mississippi Veteran's Memorial Stadium and more.
Skepticism about 2011's first parade evaporated after folks saw the Zippity Doo Dah difference in the community, prompting more Fondren merchants to tie in.
"This year ... they're like, we can totally embrace this," Fondren Renaissance Foundation executive director Jim Wilkerson said. "This is good for everybody, not only us but Jackson, and it's a great cause to support. I think it's just having that one year under our belt that made the largest difference."
Activities have broad appeal, he said, and bringing the established and eclectic Arts, Eats & Beats crowd just builds on the weekend's draw.
"A lot of people don't know anything about Fondren. The hope is that they will stay in Jackson and experience something unique over that three-day period."
Merchants anticipate good sales and some are gunning straight for queens' business. Brown's Fine Art & Framing is gearing merchandise that way with pick-up type items, queen-themed art and a candle scent from Southernness specifically for this weekend, called Sweet Patootie. "It's like a sweet potato pie," gallery co-owner Joel Brown said.
Thursday, March 22
5-9 p.m.: Arts Eats & Beats throughout Fondren business district with merchant and music specials; highlights include Budweiser Clydesdales, WJTV Battle of the Bands on the Clear Channel/Ergon Stage in St. Luke's United Methodist Church parking lot (Duling Hall in case of rain), with performances by singer/musician Baylee Goley and band Mama Loretta
Friday, March 23
11 a.m.: Big Hat Luncheon at Sal & Mookie's, 11 a.m.; $26, $21 advance; reservations, (601) 368-1919
6-9 p.m.: Street Dance featuring The Bouffants on Duling Avenue, free
9 p.m.: Big Hair Ball at the Hilton, with music by SPQ Songstress Kacey Jones, the Mississippi Blues Allstars (These Days with Jewel Bass, plus Jesse Robinson, King Edward and Fingers Taylor), $10 at the door
Saturday,* March 24
10 a.m. to noon: Bacon, Biscuits, Bloodies & Books book-signing party, Duling Hall, $20 at the door
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Sal & Mookie's/Parents & Kids Magazine Children's Carnival
1 p.m.: Dave's Highway, Ergon/Clear Channel Stage
1-3 p.m.: Rainbow Plaza music, starting with Pam Confer's Jazz Beautiful, music throughout Fondren
2-5 p.m.: Batson Children's Hospital Jump Zone, Duling Lawn
2 p.m.: Mississippi Mass Choir, Clear Channel/Ergon Stage
5-7 p.m.: Salsa in the Streets, front of Salsa Dance Studio
6:35 p.m.: Street clearing by Roller Vixens with Babalu and Jackson Rugby Football Club Running of the Bulls; parade route sweep for children's hospital donations
7:30 p.m.: Bank Plus Zippity Doo Dah Parade rolls
8-9:30 p.m.: Street dance with Delta Mountain Boys, Clear Channel/Ergon Stage
* $5 parking Saturday at the stadium; zippitydoodahparade.com