PROVINCETOWN — The theme for the 43rd Carnival parade, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” was supposed to evoke a return to the good life after the long pandemic. But the select board’s June 14 denial of the parade application means that dream will not come true this year.
The Provincetown Business Guild (PBG) had pitched a different kind of cavalcade for this summer — one that would have included people on bikes, “pedi-cabs, shopping carts, wagons, pulled carts, golf carts, scooters, and an estimated 1,000 marchers,” according to the application for the Aug. 19 parade on Commercial Street.
Gone would be the floats, of which there were 60 in all, including 40 large ones on trucks, in the 2019 parade — the largest in Carnival history. These floats are the focus of a good deal of event safety planning. Each one requires the work of four “parade wranglers,” who must march beside the trucks’ wheels to keep people from swarming around the vehicles and having their feet run over, or stopping the parade flow, said Robert Sanborn, the guild’s executive director.
But the select board, which wields the authority to grant parade permits, voted 3-1 against the PBG’s proposal. Chair David Abramson was absent and John Golden cast the lone vote in favor of the truckless extravaganza. Police Chief Jim Golden (who is not related to select board member John Golden) said he feared the parade would not keep rolling without the usual vehicles.
The select board’s Golden said he was “baffled” by this reasoning. He thought those marching in high heels would want to step as fast as possible to get all the way from the Harbor Hotel in the far East End to Franklin Street.
Sanborn said the board’s decision “was a vote against tourism.”
“We were offering a safer alternative, and I didn’t understand the rationale for voting against it,” Sanborn continued. “I believe there will be an organic, unorganized costume promenade anyway,” he said, “and we missed the opportunity to make it organized and safer.”
Louise Venden, the board member who moved that the parade application be denied, said she did not want to overtax the police. The town has seen record numbers of tourists since May, and she said she feared a Carnival parade organized starting now would be too much with too little planning.
Venden also referred to the concerns listed in a letter to the board from the police chief. These included the suggestion that public health calls for reducing the scale of events and limiting contact among people.
The letter also cited the lack of planning time. Parade organization generally begins six months before the event, the chief wrote. The select board voted in April to cancel the parade and, as recently as two weeks ago, the PBG, town staff, and police met to discuss a street festival rather than a moving parade during Carnival week.
But the street festival, which also requires permitting by the select board, was then rejected by the business community, which favored a parade, Sanborn said.
Town Manager Alex Morse said the police chief had neither rejected nor endorsed the parade idea. Instead, he had attached some conditions, including reimbursement from the PBG for extra police staff.
No one could question Chief Golden directly because he did not attend the meeting.
“This is one of the things disappointing to me,” said Venden. “When a member of town staff is not available to us. We don’t have anyone who can explain this to us.”
She said there were too many questions left unanswered.
Sanborn said if the PBG now wants to go back to having a street festival it must ask the select board at its next meeting, at the end of June. That leaves less than two months to plan the festival. It may be too late.
At this point, it may just be an “express yourself day,” Sanborn said. That’s a new idea by the PBG that invites participants during each of the LGBTQ theme weeks to dress to express themselves, he said. Carnival parade day 2021 could become “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the informal costume party.