By Joel Hall
Officials with Arts Clayton and the City of Jonesboro say this year's Holiday at Home Parade may be the biggest yet, with new floats, and a "Battle of the Bands" competition, featuring six Clayton County high school marching bands.
The 15th annual parade will take place in downtown Jonesboro on Saturday, starting at 4:30 p.m.
This year's parade will feature appearances by Truett Cathy, the founder of the Chick-fil-A restaurant, Sparkey the Fire Dog, and Belinda Skelton, a radio personality from WSB Radio's "The Neal Boortz Show." She will serve as grand marshal of the parade.
Jonesboro Public Works Director Joe Nettleton said the parade will involve participation of cities throughout the Southern Crescent. "The parade is growing by leaps and bounds every year," he said.
Nettleton said the parade would take about an hour and a half, from start to finish. It will start on Stockbridge Road, turn right on Main Street, cross the train tracks on Johnson Street near the Confederate Cemetery, turn left on Main Street, cross the train tracks again at College Street, and end at the Historic Clayton County Courthouse.
The parade will end with a guest appearance from Santa Claus riding in the bucket of a Clayton County fire truck. Following the parade, a tree-lighting ceremony will take place on the courthouse lawn.
The parade is being held in conjunction with the Jonesboro Downtown Festival, which will take place from noon to 9 p.m. It will feature vendor booths, selling arts and crafts, as well as carnival foods, such as funnel cakes, corn on the cob, hot dogs and Philly cheesesteaks.
The day-long festival will end with a "Street Dance," when a DJ plays various types of party music for people to dance to in the middle of North McDonough and Main Streets.
"It's a huge event, it really is," said Nettleton. "I've never seen anybody walk away with a frown on their face."
Sara Cookson, program and event coordinator for Arts Clayton -- which has sponsored the parade from the beginning -- said this year's parade is a huge operation, with over 2,000 people participating, and more than 5,000 spectators expected to attend.
Organizations sponsoring floats this year include the Tara Beekeepers Association, Clayton County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), and the Tara district Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. This year, Historical Jonesboro and the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau will sponsor a Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara float.
New Birth South Metropolitan Church and a dozen riders from the Southside Saints motorcycle ministry, will ride in the parade, and several men on horseback will represent a moving "Buffalo Soldiers" exhibit.
An additional feature this year will be the "Battle of the Bands," in which State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) will present $500 to the best-performing high school band in the parade.
"Arts is a necessary piece of social development," said Glanton. "Our bands are suffering around the state as a whole, not just from a financial standpoint, but from an equipment standpoint."
Glanton said the competition was a good way to showcase those bands and to "galvanize [the public] to support the arts as a whole."
Cookson said that despite expected traffic delays around the city, the parade will be impressive.
"Traffic in Jonesboro may be backed up, but it will be oh so worth it, when they get to the parade," she said.