NEW PORT RICHEY — Carnival rides, boat and street parades, a steady lineup of music in Sims Park and the traditional Native American festival are just part of what's on the agenda as the Chasco Fiesta gets under way today in downtown New Port Richey.
It's nine days of celebratory fun that's billed as an event that has "something for everyone" while providing a venue for more than 25 local non-profits to raise funds.
Everyone loves a parade and Saturday's march down the streets of downtown is a particular highlight with a decidedly patriotic tone.
The parade gets rolling at 1 p.m. with the Parris Island Marine Band leading the way along with an official flag corps and yet-to-be-named grand marshal from United States Central Command, or CENTCOM, in Tampa.
Booking the band is indeed a coup for parade organizers, one that might have been spurred with the help of U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor. The congressman hand-delivered the application a year ago in Washington, D.C., according to organizer Greg Armstrong, who has been staging the Chasco Fiesta Street Parade for 34 years running.
"I've seen them perform at the White House and the Capitol. If you want perfect, that's about as close as it gets," Armstrong said, adding that the band will also perform at Sims Park after the parade.
The Parris Island Marine Band has been around since 1915. Back then, the musicians did double duty, playing instruments and working as marksmanship instructors, close body combat instructors or in other support positions. Today, the band typically performs at military events and ceremonies, including about 40 recruit graduations a year and a select number of parades.
Lending to the patriotic spirit will be about 30 military units forming behind the band. Veterans and active military members are welcome to join in, Armstrong said, adding that interested marchers should meet before the parade at the Schwettman Education Center (5520 Grand Blvd.) and wear their colors or a shirt or hat that represents their branch of the military.
There will be at least 102 units rolling down Grand Boulevard, Main Street and around Sims Park, including 16 professional floats, 16 high school bands and 16 krewes who undoubtedly will be tossing bead necklaces.
There will also be a sentimental salute to this year's honorary grand marshal, Roger Michels, 84 who was long a mover and shaker when it came Chasco Fiesta's street march.
"For the last 50 years he's been the guy that got this parade going every year," Armstrong said. "He got the balloons from the Macy's Day parade back in the years we were doing balloons. He recruited bands from all over to make this more than a regional parade. Now we're the third-largest parade in Florida as far as attendance with a little over 100,000 (spectators) each year."
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow @Michele Miller52.