It’s an island tradition that has withstood the test of time.
Every June, in honor of the longest day of the year, the community comes together to dance, prance, sing and sway through the streets of Eastsound during the Solstice Parade.
“It’s really important that it’s family-friendly. Children and seniors and everyone in between participate. It’s a family event and everyone is welcome and appreciated,” said Laura Gibbons, who launched the parade in 1999 and has served as its coordinator for the past two decades.
The festivities took a hiatus for the past two years due to COVID, but it will make its colorful, triumphant return on June 18 at noon, starting at the Odd Fellows Hall. Gibbons is handing over her sparkly director reigns to Tiffany Loney, who has been an active volunteer since the parade’s inception.
“I thought I would do this until I died, but during COVID, I realized it needs new leadership and new energy,” said Gibbons. “This needs to be passed on to the generation behind me. Let’s refresh it and invigorate it. To keep it healthy, it needs new energy, enthusiasm and vision. And we are glad it’s back!”
Loney marched in the very first solstice parade as a rhythmic, dancing yellowjacket. The event quickly became one of her favorite Orcas celebrations of the year.
“It speaks to me on so many levels,” she said. “It’s the culmination of music, costumes, dance, puppetry, stilt walking and artistic expression. Every age in the community is participating in the expression of Joy. FUN is at the heart of this parade. Some of my best memories are from this annual march. I’ve heard many times people exclaim that this parade is what made them want to move to Orcas. That’s because the unity of everyone’s enthusiasm can’t be missed. We never expected there to be people watching on the streets. We did it for ourselves. We did it to acknowledge that we made it through the winter and we’re ready to embrace each other and share the bounty summer brings.”
Loney says this year’s theme is “Radiate Sparkles.”
“For me, this parade represents the spirit of our community and I can’t imagine it not continuing,” she said. “It has its own momentum and I’m just one of many who will carry the torch forward. Laura established the essence of this parade as marching our best selves forward.”
Gibbons organized the first Orcas Solstice Parade 23 years ago after first seeing it in the 1970s in Santa Barbara, California.
“I was walking down the street one day and there was color and banners and dancing in the street, and I thought, ‘What is this? This is amazing,’” she said.
In May 1999, Gibbons gathered together a core group of enthusiastic islanders, many of whom participate in the annual event still, to create costumes and floats. The parade is entirely foot-powered and writing, slogans or political statements are prohibited.
“This community is so creative and has so many elements of music and dance and visual arts,” she said. “It had an all-inclusive feel.”
While the costumes and dances may change, each year always features a large dragon and hugging sun puppet. For the inaugural parade, Gibbons’ partner Michael Budnick powered a dragon built by George Post made of materials from the Exchange. Later he created built a three-person dragon with wings, and Veronica St. Martin created fabric to drape over its body. Gibbons keeps all of the costumes in a storage unit. In 2014, a steering committee was formed.
“People have a particular interest in costuming or dance or musical performance and they have been generously supporting this,” she said. “It’s been driven by community enthusiasm and generous volunteer support from closing and opening the street to putting up signage, press, costumes and performances. That’s why it’s been so successful.”
Registration is not required to participate.
“We don’t really know who’s going to be in it until they show up on the day,” Gibbons said. “It’s such a wonderful, collaborative event and through it, I have become friends with people I would have never known. Art can bring people together to create community.”