Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Every year, thousands of people come from all over Mississippi to enjoy the Mal's St. Paddy's Parade. The excitement in the air is palpable. Get there early enough, and you'll enjoy having a seat so close that the throws could land in your lap. Arrive late, and heaven help you to find a parking space. The elaborate and entertaining floats capture the eyes and hearts of parade-goers, but who holds the responsibility for judging these floats and giving the best floats their due?
They're called the "Buckethead Judges," or "Bucketheads" for short. This secret group of men and women tasked with judging each parade float can be identified by their elaborate headwear that closely resemble buckets.
Trying to find out the identity of the Buckethead Judges is the equivalent of trying to name the members of the local Masonic Lodge: If you're an outsider, you may never know, and even our calls went unanswered.
One might wonder why they wear these hats. Is it a fashion statement? A tradition of some sort? The answer is quite simple if you can get it: "Necklaces, the paraphernalia, they hit us in our heads," said Margaret Mockbee in a rare 2004 Buckethead interview with WLBT. "These buckets protect our heads." The judges set up in front of the Governor's Mansion, and each float receives a two-minute limit in front of the judges' stand to give their best performance competing to win cash prizes, trophies and bragging rights. The floats are judged on creativity, execution, style and exuberance. The criteria, printed on the float registration form, state "those throwing slop at the judges may be banned from future parades. Gifts, however, are welcome." (Making one wonder just what occurred in the past.)
So, if you're new to the parade (I attended my first last year), the whole event may seem to be too much: crowds of people, elaborate floats, potentially damaging throws that give the judges reason to wear protective headwear, and an overall Mardi Gras-like feel.
Don't be discouraged, though. Come out, bring your family, and enjoy the biggest Jackson party of the year! Just don't hit a Buckethead.