In one respect, Long Beach is no Rio de Janeiro, says Willis King, who has done Carnaval in both cities. "In Brazil, the whole city wears less than nothing," he said. "They won't put up with that here." But, King added, much of the same spirit and lustiness pervades the downtown Long Beach festival, which begins next weekend.
Carnaval west gets under way Saturday morning with a parade full of floats, feathers, streamers and more colors than you will find in a multiflavored snow cone. After the parade, a festival atmosphere takes over with continuous live entertainment by some big-name performers including Junior Walker and the All Stars, Poncho Sanchez and Tania Maria. The weekend winds down with an electric parade at 9 p.m. May 26.
Costumed dancers from Trinidad and Tobago will join kids and adults doing the samba down Long Beach Boulevard to music from Brazil and the Caribbean, wearing everything from glittering masks to grass skirts. In Rio, the tropical heat keeps revelers nearly naked, King explained.
"I never wear anything but skimpy," he said. But King has a reason besides the heat to dress down for the Long Beach soiree. "Because I work out at the gym, if I must toot my own horn," he said. He also teaches aerobics and works as a nurse for a Long Beach hospital.
Last year, King appeared dancing downtown in little more than a "jeweled G-string and a pair of boots," he said. But reducing King's costume to such basics does him a disservice; King's creation combined the glitz of a Las Vegas show girl with the grit of a Zulu warrior king. Pheasant and ostrich feathers extended outward and upward six feet; nestled in his wings was a fearsome crowned skull, symbolizing the capture of a rival tribal leader.
Don't look for King in the same number this year though; he already has commissioned a new costume for Saturday's parade, at a cost of well over $4,000. Why doesn't he just wear last year's outfit? "They've already seen it!" he said. "I wouldn't be caught dead in that in Long Beach!"
The first parade Saturday will begin at 10 a.m. at 1st Street and travel north on Long Beach Boulevard, west on 6th Street and south on Pine Avenue to Broadway, making a big loop around the Long Beach Plaza shopping center. Afterward, look for the Carnaval festival in a fenced-off area between 1st and 3rd streets and between Long Beach Boulevard and Pine Avenue. Its midway is along the Promenade, a walk street, with entertainment, food, drinks, international crafts, carnival rides and a children's theater along with clowns and jugglers. There will be five main stages with specific musical themes: Stage 1 is Brazilian and reggae style, Stage 2 is Caribbean, Stage 3 is for children's performers and has free access on Broadway at Long Beach Boulevard, Stage 4 is pop, rock and oldies, and Stage 5 is country on Saturday and blues on Sunday. The finale electric parade begins at 9 p.m. May 26, traveling north on Pine Avenue from Broadway to 6th Street and ending at the north end of Long Beach Plaza.
Admission to the festival costs $5 for adults. Children under 12 are free. The festival continues from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on May 26.
Saturday's stage entertainment includes Al Wilson, Susie Hansen Salsa Band, Samba Pacifica Band and Dancers, Tania Maria, Machine Gun Kelly, Patty and the Hired Hands, American Made, TBA, Western Union and various bands playing samba, salsa and Afro-Brazilian music. Next Sunday's lineup has Junior Walker and the All Stars, Poncho Sanchez, Brenton Wood, the Coasters, Harmonica Fats, Empire Melodic Rock Band, Luke and the Locomotives, Arrow, George Griffin and Brazilian and Caribbean bands. Trinidad and Tobago folk dancers, steel drum bands, reggae, limbo dancers and fire eaters perform both days.
The Downtown Long Beach Associates sponsors Carnaval, along with several private corporations. For more information, call 495-8496.