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by Kristy Como Armand
The floats that captivate visitors at the annual Rose Parade aren’t created by design professionals alone. Every year, thousands of volunteers spend hours painstakingly gluing seeds, fruits, vegetables, dried florals and, of course, fresh flowers on the floats. I was one of those volunteers for this year’s award winning Explore Louisiana float. It was an unforgettable experience from beginning to end.
This was the third consecutive year the Louisiana Office of Tourism participated in the famed parade. After last year’s event, I read an article about volunteers helping to decorate our state float. I thought it sounded like a fun and interesting experience and a great way to help promote our state. I looked into the process and added my name to a list so I’d be notified for this year’s float. When I got the email asking for volunteers to register, I completed the application and asked my friend, Patricia Prudhomme, if she’d be interested. We were notified with details and planned our trip to Pasadena.
We arrived on Thursday, December 28, in time to attend Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser’s Rose Parade Welcome Reception at the legendary Rose Bowl Stadium. We toured the venue and got a preview of the parade performances from Grammy-nominated Zydeco musician Sean Ardoin, Cajun fiddler Amanda Shaw and guitarist James Burton.
We worked shifts on Friday and Saturday in the Fiesta Parades Float Barn in Azusa, just outside of Pasadena. We learned there are four different companies responsible for designing and building the 40 floats in this year’s parade. It’s a year-long process with thousands of volunteers arriving from across the country to help finalize the decorating in the week leading up to this annual New Year’s Day parade. In addition to the Louisiana float, there were four other floats being assembled in our float barn.
The Rose Parade’s elaborate floats have evolved since the first parade 135 years ago, but the event has stayed true to its floral beginnings. Every inch of every float must be covered with flowers or other natural materials, such as leaves, seeds or bark. The most delicate flowers, including roses, are placed in individual vials of water, which are set into the float one by one.
The best way to describe the setup when we arrived in the barn was organized chaos, with the emphasis on “organized.” The float builders and professional staff definitely knew what they were doing. It was a process to get all our volunteers assigned to the right places, but everyone was patient during the wait and we were overwhelmed by the scope and scale of the operation. The float was still under construction with welders and builders up on scaffolding. We experienced sensory overload, with rows and rows of flowers, plants, fruit, vegetables, seeds, sculpted float parts and supplies all around us. Staffers continuously brought in more materials for each float.
We met volunteers from across the country; some were first-timers like us and others made the journey every year to help. Many volunteers were part of local and national civic organizations, and in the Louisiana volunteer crew, there were also festival queens and tourism staff members helping to bring our float to life.
The theme for the 2024 Rose Parade was “Celebrating a World of Music: The Universal Language.” Louisiana’s float featured a larger-than-life jester surrounded by second-line umbrellas and fleur-de-lis in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. Our primary task was to cut and glue corn husks along the base of the Louisiana float. Some of our friends attached pieces of seaweed to the edges of the float’s fleur-de-lis and along the wrought iron balcony. Others applied rice powder to the jester’s hat. An experienced floral team inserted the larger floral stems. Activity was frenetic, yet focused. It’s impossible to fully describe the painstaking attention to detail and the level of creativity involved in the creation of the floats. It was a fascinating process and a challenge to not be distracted by all the activity around us as we worked on our assignments.
The culmination of our volunteer experience was attending the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day and seeing the completed “Explore Louisiana” float roll before us with our incredible musical performers. We were not surprised to learn our state float won the Showmanship Award for the second consecutive year. This award represents entertainment and showmanship. As Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said, “Louisiana is a perfect fit for the theme of music. Music is a part of our culture, from Mardi Gras to our festivals, to our daily lives.”
Patricia and I are so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this year’s award-winning production, even in our small way. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience we will never forget!