Whether you are decompressing from news of recent elections and endless White House doublespeak, feeling glum about the seemingly nonstop national tragedies or the ravaging wildfires in our own backyards, or merely seeking a bit of unusual amusement and silliness after a long work week, you'll find a hefty dose of eccentricity and escapism served up on Sunday, Nov. 18, at Pasadena's long-running Doo Dah Parade.
Specializing in the weird, the outlandish and the unconventional, the Doo Dah, now on its 41st run, might have been created in 1978 as a lark, as an act of rebellion against the stately, traditional Rose Parade, but it's proven to be nearly as beloved in terms of tradition and following.
Indeed, the story of the Doo Dah ties in neatly with the time-honored Pasadena Rose Parade, which got its start in 1890 and is well known for presenting motorized floats covered in flowers and seeds, flanked by marching bands and the annual selection of the Rose Queen and her court. Though routinely held each Jan. 1, the 128-year-old Rose Parade has always maintained an antiquated rule, "Never on a Sunday," dating back to 1893, when organizers, who feared noise from the event would spook horses tied up outside churches on Sunday, chose to instead host the pageant on Monday, Jan. 2.
Eighty-five years later, the Rose Parade was scheduled to be held on a Monday: Jan. 2, 1978. At that point, a group of friends, tipping back pints in a now-extinct Old Town Pasadena dive bar called Chromo’s Bar and Grill, bantered about creating their own parade to fill the Sunday gap. The sarcastic brainstorming that resulted from that drinking session manifested as a larger-than-life reality, creating the first ever Doo Dah Parade. The plan was to take absurdity to a new level by spoofing its flowery and slightly uptight predecessor with some tongue-in-cheek oddball boisterousness. Instead of marching bands, the first Doo Dah featured both the Synchronized Briefcase Drill Team and the Lawn Mower Drill Team. In mockery of a formal Rose Queen, this parody parade was officiated by the Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.
Though originally intended as a one-off event, the nose-snubbing Doo Dah tradition has now continued for four decades. The originality and rambunctious shenanigans of the floats have continued unabated since then, driven by pun fun and bizarro concepts. In 1981 the Amazing Fully Booked Band was composed of hardback novel–clapping Pasadena public librarians; in 1987 The Balletwinos marched as "serious dance artists with a serious drinking problem"; in 1995 the Grill Team paraded with charcoal bags for hats, barbecuing hot dogs as they marched; in 2001 the Howlelujah Chorus consisted of basset hounds in choir robes; and in 2016 the tartan-wearing Off-Kilter Kilts insisted, “Down with pants, up with kilts!”
Over the years these acts have all been sandwiched between random oddities including art cars shaped as toasters, giant hamster-mobiles, papier-mâche floats, flour tortilla fights, pompadoured Elvis impersonators, undulating belly dancers and a Fellini-esque troop of weirdos, misfits and regular Joes willing to camp it up.
"I have many fond memories, so it's hard to pick one over the other," muses parade organizer Patricia Hurley when asked to pick her all-time favorite Doo Dah moment. "I really remember Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping Choir parading past our local Starbucks, violating their restraining order. The Mile High Club, consisting of drunken pilots and frolicking stewardesses, was also pretty memorable. The Coupe de Ville Car-Pool, a hot tub and mint-condition Cadillac convertible rolled into one, can't be forgotten, or the Movable Feast, an elegant dining table with brunch and mimosas, complete with chandelier, peddled by its fancy guests."
Though the first parade was held on Colorado Boulevard in Old Town, its route and its date have changed often over the years to accommodate local businesses. This year, the 11 a.m. step-off begins on East Colorado Boulevard at North Vinedo Avenue, proceeding between Altadena Drive and San Gabriel Boulevard. "What's great about the Doo Dah Parade is that it moves in a complete loop, so that nobody misses anything," Hurley says. "In fact, it’s the only parade we know of that moves in opposite directions at the same time. The Colorado Bar, a local tavern at Colorado and Vinedo, is where organizers like to view the parade, maybe that’s because drinks are handy. We encourage people to join us.
"This year we expect up to 90 floats, mutant art cars, unusual marching units, bands, robotic creations, political pundits, and anything else that may strike our entrants' imaginations. In all there should be about 1,500 marching participants," Hurley says. "We have a whole lot of new entries this year. We are always excited to see what the new folks bring to Doo Dah, but we are especially excited to see Professor Pigeon’s Flying Library, The Nutcrackers & Sugar Plump Faeries and Rocket Boy."
The event has inspired similar parades nationwide, including Doo Dahs in Columbus, Ohio; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Ocean City, New Jersey. Hurley says several thousand attend the Pasadena original each year. "We haven’t done a formal count," she adds. "But we know that the crowd has increased by about 20 percent over the last several years."
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There is always lots to see, so get your spot early this year for a chance to ogle the sure-to-be-outrageous procession, featuring the Pony Baloney Express, the Army of Toy Soldiers, Zucchini Patrol, the Aloha Oy Vey Marching Ukulele Band, Trashion Show and Saucers From Bakersfield, to name a few. Live bands will be on hand, too, including locals faves The Radioactive Chickenheads and Black Sabbitch.
As for this year's Doo-Dah queen? The honor goes to Queen Sassy Classy, otherwise known as Jennipha-Laurén Nielsen, who is looking forward to presiding over this year's nonconformist extravaganza and street party. "It’s of the people and for the people, a place where diversity and creativity are well honored," Her Highness says this quirky kingdom. “Doo Dah is another great piece of Pasadena culture."
The Doo Dah Parade, Sun., Nov. 18, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. More info at pasadenadoodahparade.info.