Beads, music and Irish pride — St. Patrick’s Day parade hits B.R. streets on Saturday

Rollin’ of the Green

The best and largest parade in Baton Rouge rolls after Mardi Gras is over, according to Wearin’ of the Green founder and WBRZ meteorologist Pat Shingleton.

Baton Rouge police treat the St. Patrick’s Day parade like an LSU football game, preparing for 100,000 revelers to come out for beads, music and Irish pride, Shingleton said.

Some people argue that the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade attracts more spectators, but counting moving revelers is difficult, even using aerial photographs.

“People cross the street to get beads (in the Spanish Town parade). Wearin’ of the Green is a set route. Once you’re there, you’re not moving,” Shingleton said.

The 29-year-old parade is popular in part because of the large contingency of Irish and related families in Baton Rouge. The route also runs through “a great neighborhood and community.” People come from all over the country for the parade, which begins with large Irish breakfasts and spawns numerous afterparties. Some revelers even take the festivities a step further.

“Every year, people get married on the route,” Shingleton said.

Shingleton walks the 2.2 mile route every year along with his family and the family of co-organizer Grey Hammett.

This year, Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson is the grand marshal. Besides having Irish heritage, he has been involved in the parade from the beginning.

“He’s pretty excited about (being named grand marshal),” Shingleton said.

Edmonson and his wife and four children will ride on the Denis Coffey-Gene McFadden Hammett Memorial Float.

The choice of Edmonson for grand marshal is also appropriate because of the importance of a police presence at the parade. Over the years, the State Police and local forces have been key to the success of Wearin’ of the Green.

“We want to make sure it’s safe,” Shingleton said.

Parade organizers are limited to 90 “units” riding in the parade, which includes seven marching bands, bagpipers, 73 floats, and special guests such as Mayor Kip Holden.

Competition is fierce for those who want to have floats in the parade.“It’s like LSU football tickets. People have their float position and they pass it down. We have a waiting list and no slots,” Shingleton said.

Groups with floats in the parade have to abide by strict rules. A “shamrock rating system” is in place to assess those participating. Parade marshals along the route note the number of walkers protecting the wheels, music, attitude, and whether the riders throw banned items.

Even though the parade has turned into a citywide event, Shingleton tries to keep some of the original traditions.

“I have never thrown a bead or ridden in the parade,” he said.

Instead, he starts the day with a big breakfast to fuel himself for the walk across the shamrock-lined path.