St. Pat’s parade: Good friends, good beer, good music

St. Patrick’s Day street closings

• Massachusetts Street between 17th Street and 11th Street at noon

• Massachusetts Street between 11th Street and Sixth Street at 1 p.m.

• The northbound lane of the bridge across the Kansas River will reduce to one lane at 1 p.m.

• Streets will open after the parade, which will last more than an hour. Police personnel will be at the intersection of Sixth and Massachusetts streets to direct traffic during breaks in the parade.

Last St. Patrick’s Day, a giant riverboat carrying dancing pirates floated up Massachusetts Street blasting “Proud Mary” by Ike and Tina Turner. The year before, there was a giant volcano with two decks of people dancing along to Jimmy Buffett’s “Volcano.”

What’s in store for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade?

Only the Sandbar knows. For years, the Lawrence bar has constructed wild floats that have won first prize in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade contest. This year’s entry is under wraps until the parade — which features dozens of floats and other groups — kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in South Park and then heads up Massachusetts Street before thousands of onlookers.

“They always have a popular tune, they’re always dancing and it’s just something that grabs the crowd,” Barb Herbel, the parade’s dignitary pageant coordinator, said about the Sandbar’s float.

Every year, the Sandbar’s float reflects the downtown bar’s nautical theme, blaring the island music that often plays inside the bar at 17 E. Eighth St. Of course, the giant floats promote the bar, but that’s not what the Sandbar employees find important about their dedication to the St. Patrick’s Day parades.

“We really don’t care about winning,” said David Johanning, a managing partner at the Sandbar. “It’s more about seeing the kids dancing with us and having fun and waving, as well as the older people and families. That’s why we do it. It’s so much fun to see how much fun people have with us.”

While contestants are still finishing up their entries, the parade committee is working hard to prepare and raise money for this year’s 26th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Sarajane Scott, the co-chairman of the parade committee, said organizers already have 100 groups participating in the parade, and nearly $75,000 has been raised for charity. This year, proceeds will go to the Lawrence Arts Center’s scholarship fund, the Ballard Community Center and the County Fair Swim Club.

“It is an afternoon of fun and entertainment, and we raise money for local children’s charities,” Scott said.

Parade organizers award various prizes in three categories of floats: commercial businesses, nonprofit organizations and families and an overall prize that has gone to the Sandbar float for as long as anybody can remember. Contestants are judged based on float decorations, participation, costumes and atmosphere.

This year, the Sandbar’s usual rival for the top prize, the Entertainment Division Traveling Trophy, is sitting out the parade.

The collaborative effort by Kennedy Glass, Combs Custom Cycle, Ace Bail Bonds and Slow Ride Roadhouse is also not entering a float this year. Marty Kennedy, the general manager at Kennedy Glass, said the four partners were running out of creative ideas, were exhausted and didn’t want to spend the money to build an elaborate float.

Johanning said a lot goes into a themed float: music, dancers and costumes, along with float construction and practice sessions.

Brainstorming for the Sandbar’s annual float begins about a year in advance. The physical preparation usually begins about a month and a half before the big day. But this year’s snowstorms delayed construction, so the float-building crew got to work just three weeks before the parade.

The clock is ticking, and the crew is working frantically in a secret location to get things done. Members of the Sandbar team are acquiring different items for the float and for costumes. Dancers have been practicing for days, trying to get their choreography just right.

“We get to a point where it’s done, but you can always do more,” Johanning said.

Between the Sandbar employees, their family and friends, about 20 to 30 people contribute to the float in some way, including Justin Kogel, the owner of FastFrame in Lawrence. Kogel is a longtime friend of Johanning and has helped with the Sandbar’s floats for about 10 years.

“It’s a good time,” Kogel said. “We’re drinking beer and having fun while we’re building it. It is a bar, after all. Anywhere there is good friends, good beer and good music, it’s just a positive scene.”