By Bear State Bank

All Irish Eyes are Smiling on Hot Springs

By Sara Dacus

This weekend, Hot Springs will welcome over 30,000 people from the Bear State and beyond for the First Ever 15th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In 2009, Smithsonian Magazine declared this celebration “The Quirkiest St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Earth,” and last year, Irish Central, an Irish media hub, named Hot Springs No. 8 among the Top 10 Spots in the World to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Bridge Street, the official parade route, is 98 feet in length. It was named the shortest street in the world in operation in the 1940’s. However, spectators can catch the parade on Central Avenue or Malvern Avenue as it travels to and from Bridge Street.

The celebration begins Friday with a pop-up Irish pub on the lawn of the convention center, a kissing contest at the Arkansas Blarney Stone and live music. Grand Funk Railroad headlines with a free performance at 8:00 p.m.

Photo by David Yerby

The Budweiser Clydesdales will appear at Oaklawn Park on Friday and the parade on Saturday. The eight-horse hitch will be harnessed to the iconic red beer wagon and will parade between Friday’s fifth and sixth races. The Clydesdales will exit the track and be stationed in the infield, and the public is invited to visit them. The breed has a long history with Oaklawn. Up until the early-80s, the Clydesdales were responsible for positioning the starting gate between the races, and the horses lived in the infield.

The Saturday festivities are starting a little later than usual so racegoers at Oaklawn Park can attend both events. The Rebel Stakes will be contested on St. Patrick’s Day, and this is the track’s second most well-attended day behind Arkansas Derby day. Awarding over $2 million in purses, it is also the second-richest. The Rebel Stakes offers 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. Champions American Pharoah (2015), Curlin (2007) and Smarty Jones (2004) all won the Rebel.

At the parade site, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders will entertain the crowd beginning at 6:30. At 7:25, the official measuring of the parade route will occur. Jon Heder, who gained a following playing Napoleon Dynamite, is the parade starter. Joey Fatone of *NSYNC is the grand marshal. He will walk the 98-foot Bridge Street in the footsteps of fellow grand marshals Alfonso Ribeiro (who played Carlton on The Fresh Prince), Bo Derek, Kevin Bacon, Mario Lopez, Pauley Shore and George Wendt (who played Norm on Cheers).

Photo by David Yerby

New parade entries include a dancing dinosaur from Mid-America Science Museum, a team of roller derby skaters and a marching pack of Irish dachshunds.

A popular local parade entry is the Irish Order of Elvis Impersonators. This year, one of their own is being honored as parade royalty. Anthony Valinoti, proprietor of the nationally-famous Deluca’s Pizzeria Napoletana, is the shamrock king. Rose Schweikhart, who developed and runs Superior Bathhouse Brewery on Bathhouse Row, is the queen.

“We couldn’t have found two people more in tune with the atmosphere of wacky good fun surrounding our great little parade than Tony and Rose,” said Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs and one of the creators this event. “Not only have their establishments brought nationwide favorable attention to Hot Springs, but Tony and Rose also fully understand how this event has grown to bring international media applause for our city.”

The evening will conclude with a free post parade concert with Morris Day & The Time.

Photo by David Yerby
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