Joyous energy spread through the crowd as people jumped with the throbbing music.
The Pin Chasers Knight Parade, an annual event for the Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago, drew thousands to 7th Avenue in Ybor City Saturday night to commune, collect beads, dance and sing aloud.
Revelers tossed a soft toy football back and forth across the parade route between floats. People standing right behind the barricades hurled their surplus beads up into the dense crowds behind them. Men scooped errant strands and delivered them kindly to others.
Catarina Boyd, 18, smiled brightly as she sauntered down 7th Avenue holding a cardboard sign advertising "free hugs."
Paradegoers threw out their arms and the Robinson high student rushed into them — lingering in the embraces.
"It puts a smile on people's faces," she said. "Look at me. I'm smiling."
By 6:30 p.m., she estimated she had given out about 500 hugs. Along the way, a group began to form around her, hugging all who were interested. Boyd hoped to hug 1,000 strangers before the night's end.
"I would have done this at Gasparilla, but I couldn't find a poster board. I was so sad," she joked.
Jon Addison, 59, of Pinellas Park said he thinks the community atmosphere of the Knight Parade comes from the lack of alcohol on the route. Alcohol could be purchased in bars but not brought from home.
"The police officers made a person pour a drink out. That doesn't happen at the day parade," he said. "There has to be five or six times the drinking at Gasparilla."
A clear, warm night and space to maneuver made this parade an enjoyable option for Jane Dillion, 62, of St. Petersburg.
She's never been to Gasparilla but has attended at least three Knight Parades.
"It's not too crowded or too much of a mob scene," she explained.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Police Chief Jane Castor, and Fire Chief Tom Forward threw beads to their constituents as the din rose.
Looks of amazement and excitement were exchanged as Jerry Springer, popular talk show host and the parade's honorary grand marshal, sailed by on the MOR-TV float.
Springer said before the parade started that this would be his first Knight Parade.
"I grand marshaled a Mardi Gras Parade in New Orleans before," he said. "That was my training for this."
He put the skills to use as the hordes shouted his name and fingertips stretched to catch the beads he tossed.
As he sailed out of sight, the energy remained. People kept on sharing their beads with less skilled catchers. The football tossing resumed. Strangers traded smiles as they swayed to their favorite Top 40 tunes.
Under the lights of 7th Avenue, thousands were awash with beads and joy.