For cherry blossom parade producer, ideas bloom all year round

Keep your eyes peeled for the cherry blossom blooms — they’re among the first signs that winter is over. But for John Best, who produces the National Cherry Blossom Festival parade, this year on April 12, the pale pink and white buds are a sign that one of the busiest weeks of his year has just begun.

The blossoms mark the official start to parade season, says Best, who also organizes such events as the National Independence Day parade and the Miss America Pageant parade on Atlantic City’s boardwalk. Best has been working on this year’s cherry blossom parade since last May.

“They all have their own unique personalities,” Best says of the parades he manages. “This one, with the pink and the white and the green [color scheme], offers a very different feeling than say, the Memorial Day or Fourth of July parades.”


Ron Engle/National CherryBlossom Festival. Parade.

To prepare for the cherry blossom parade, Best works with teams of designers, architects and others to coordinate the parade’s myriad elements, from the television coverage to the marching bands. Artists help craft the perfect vision for the parade sponsors, most of whom choose a springy floral theme for the custom-built floats.

“The challenge is coming up with new and different floats keeping to that spring theme . . . for not just one float but 10 to 15 floats,” Best says.

A team from Shaw Parades in Maryland began the float construction earlier this month; the floats will be moved to a Washington warehouse the week before the parade. Best works with another company that provides the whimsical helium balloons, which range from custom-built cherry blossoms and Japanese lanterns to cartoon characters such as this year’s opening balloon: Foofa, a rotund pink character from the kids television show “Yo Gabba Gabba!” The balloons are inflated on the Mall at 7 a.m. the day of the parade.

“It gets bigger and grander every year,” Best says.

As for those floral arrangements on the floats — well, some of them are fake. The cherry blossom parade isn’t like Pasadena’s Rose Parade, where all of the floats are covered in organic matter.

“Sometimes the cherry blossoms are long gone before the parade,” Best says, “so we incorporate cherry blossoms on all of the floats, but they obviously can’t be real cherry blossoms.”

Sometimes they’re made of plastic, or tissue paper. But just because they aren’t real, they aren’t any less symbolic of the season.

“The thing that’s exciting about this parade is, it kicks off spring,” Best says. "There’s just a feeling in the air. . . . People really love that change. Especially after this winter."

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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