One part performance art, one part middle finger to the news items of the year, the debaucherous King Mango Strut parade has been a satirical do-it-yourself staple of Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood for almost four decades.
The parade has featured acts like a “well hung” Saddam Hussein, Michael Jackson holding a baby off a roof with a bungee cord and last year’s favorite: sea creatures dying from red tide.
The 38th annual end-of-the-year parade is Sunday at 2 p.m. It almost didn’t happen.
The parade costs about $31,000 to put on, and the nonprofit that runs it, King Mango Productions, started this year deep in the hole. President Mike Lucas estimates the group only had $8,000 in its account at the beginning of the year, clouding the parade’s 2019 prospects.
“I didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off,” Lucas said.
Plans for the parade were still up in the air before a Dec. 16 public meeting during which the nonprofit held a vote on whether it would be able to scrape by.
“The Strutters wouldn’t let it die this year," Lucas said. "They worked their butts off and raised the rest of the money."
All of the funding for King Mango Strut comes from donations from individuals and some local businesses. A $10,000 last-minute donation from City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell’s office helped make the parade possible this year.
It will be lower key than usual, though.
“We’re down to the bone," Lucas said. "We had to cut out a band, cut out some security and some other things, so we’re just barely holding it together this year.”
Also, no souvenir T-shirts will be available for purchase, since there wasn’t enough time to get them printed.
The costs associated with the King Mango Strut are symptoms of its success. In the early days, few barricades were needed, the route was shorter, and people mostly walked from other parts of the neighborhood.
“Now, because we’ve gotten so much larger, we have to get barricades. We have to have police. We have to have solid waste and parking,” Lucas said.
The parade has a colorful history. It was started in 1982, when the uber-popular Orange Bowl Parade didn't want to let locals Glenn Terry and Bill Dobson join the procession, as the design committee wouldn't approve the conch shells, kazoos and trash cans they planned to make music with.
The duo then decided to throw their own parade — with no design committee or rules whatsoever. The King Mango Strut has happened every year since, the event limited only by participants' imaginations.
The Orange Bowl Parade hasn't marched since 2001. In the end, it couldn't find the funding to continue.
Another issue for King Mango Strut organizers is age: The people involved in the parade for decades are older or gone. Terry recently moved to Gainesville; some others have died, including Dobson in 2004.
“A lot of the older Strutters are getting longer in the tooth. And we’d always love to get young blood in. It’s just been hard to lure them in,” Lucas said.
He lamented that everyone used to get the jokes, but in 2019, it’s gotten harder to assume that people consume the same news items.
“It used to be we had a common core of knowledge,” Lucas said. “Everybody would read the Herald, listen to NPR, have like three TV stations — so when you made a joke, everyone would kind of get it. Now half the people look at you like, ‘Where’d that come from? I never heard of that before.’”
Still, somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 people show up to the parade every year, he estimated.
King Mango Productions has started a GoFundMe page to help fund this year’s — and next year’s — parades.
Unless the group raises enough money between now and early next year, Lucas predicts the parade might be stuck in the same limbo again, unsure if it will be able to continue.
“Counting on county government to help us is not going to work. The storekeepers in Coconut Grove, for the most part, don’t help us. So I have no idea. People talked about sponsorships from a large company; I haven’t heard one yet,” Lucas said. “This is the Strut, and if you think we’re organized — no. It’s no such animal."