AS WE WAIT for election results to come in, I'd like to share a more personal reminiscence and account of something else that happened recently which is very important — arguably much more important over the long cultural life of Savannah than just one election.
The Savannah Pride Festival recently marked its 20th edition in Savannah with the first-ever local Pride Parade.
If it seems like a no-brainer and long overdue, you’re probably right. But they don’t call us Slow-vannah for nothing.
In any case, the 20th edition of the Festival turned out to be exactly the right time to stage the first-ever parade.
I was greatly honored to be able to march in the parade, as part of the Samba Savannah drumming group I belong to.
Being a participant in this history-making local event was, without question, a lifetime highlight — not just due to me being an LGBT ally along with everyone in our group, but also in the sheer joyful enthusiasm which which the parade was greeted by the entire city.
Some background: This is far from the first parade in Savannah I’ve been in. Growing up here, I marched more times than I can remember in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
In that parade I was also a drummer, in my school’s marching band. I was the smallest kid in the drum section, but carried the biggest drum — the bass drum. The big one that you carry vertically, and hit on each side with mallets.
Now, if you know much about percussion, you know the cruelly unfortunate thing about the bass drum is that it’s the “easiest” drum to play in a marching band, but also the most important, in that it keeps the beat for the whole band.
You only get noticed if you screw up.
Turns out though the bass drum was almost as big as I was, I was the only one in the whole drum section who was able to keep a steady enough beat to play it.
So I was stuck with it.
Thus began my long life of taking on various and sundry thankless tasks, culminating in a career as a newspaper editor — which, up there with soccer goalkeeper, must be one of the top five most thankless jobs in the world.
You only get noticed if you screw up.
But I digress. Where was I?
Ah yes, the Savannah Pride Parade. These days I play a smaller, more interesting drum that’s much easier to march with. It’s what the Brazilians call a Caixa — equivalent to a snare drum.
Long story short, I quite simply had more fun in the Savannah Pride Parade than I’ve had marching in or watching any St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah.
A lot of others can report a similar experience.
On Friday night, Oct. 25 — on the eve of Savannah’s busiest weekend of the year — we gathered at our impromptu staging area of Service Brewing on Indian Street.
There was a delightful air of anticipation. Literally no one had ever done this in Savannah before! It was exciting.
Most of you know that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade stages in an around Lincoln Street, and avoids River Street altogether. (Festivities there happen later in the day, of course.)
The Pride Parade, however — and somewhat ambitiously — kicked off on West River Street, marching nearly the entire length of the cobblestoned avenue.
Crowds spilled out from the bars to urge us on. It was closer to what I imagine an old-time St. Patrick’s Day parade must have been like back in the day, before it became corporate and mass-marketed.
The only mild critique I have of the evening was the police officer who quite impatiently urged us to catch up with the fast-moving, motorized floats and fire trucks ahead.
Some of our drums aren’t so easy to lug around, especially if you have to play at the same time!
Hopefully in next year’s edition, the start won’t be quite so frenzied, and police will accommodate the parade’s friendly vibe.
That said, by the time we reached Broughton Street, we were fully caught up and part of the parade’s seamless whole.
Huge crowds of people lined Broughton — in some spots as deep as on a St. Patrick’s Day — passionately cheering, dancing, and sometimes joining us in the ranks to groove on the Samba rhythms.
It was a feeling of communal oneness that is experienced less and less in Savannah. Maybe that’s part of why it was so special.
But as great as that was, it was just the opening act for the big finale.
Turning the corner to make the last leg into Ellis Square, we passed under the big rainbow arch.
On the other side was a truly vast and enormous crowd, overflowing and spilling out of the boundaries of the square, all looking right at us and the other marchers as we headed straight towards them.
It was a powerful, almost overwhelming visual, sonic, and emotional experience, and one I’ll never forget.
After the parade, as is always the case with these things, we weren’t ready to stop playing. So we jammed a while outside Club One.
In Ellis Square late into the night, the crowd was packed and plentiful, but missing the air of dangerous tension which is so often the case in Ellis late on a weekend night nowadays.
In its place was a calm, cathartic feeling of true accomplishment, that little, conservative old Savannah could host something so ineffably, inarguably cool and inclusive.
Something that was making its own history, rather than capitalizing on history that’s already happened.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ll still have a blast next St. Patrick’s Day, as per usual.
But in my mind, Savannah might just have itself a new signature holiday procession and celebration.