MERMAIDS JUST WANNA HAVE FIN, AT 4th ANNUAL PROMENADE

Scenes from the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids include (clockwise from top left): 2017 crowned King Brett Colby of Asbury Park with royal entourage; special “mer-guests” Merman Christian and The Harlem Mermaid; event founder Jenn Mehmaid (at far right) leading the procession; catching rays on a boardwalk bench; the Gypsy Funk Squad in action (photos by Mermaid Studio).

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, June 28 2018

When you’re a kid, mermaids are something beautiful and exotic,” says Jennifer Mehm, the Shore area native whose self-professed inability to outgrow a lifelong fascination with those fabled finny folk of the sea has seen her find her calling as the founder, the face, and the fervent ringmistress of the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids, the open-air event that returns to the city’s boardwalk on Saturday afternoon, June 30.

Speaking during a break from her perfectly normal (and not terribly exotic) surface-world career as anexecutive assistant, the Asbury area resident known as “Jenn Mehmaid” explains that “the appeal probably has more to do with not fitting in…a sense of living life between two worlds, a celebration of freedom.”

Scheduled to set sail shortly after 2 p.m., the colorful procession of costumed mermaids and mermen (and pirates, and seahorses, and shellfish, and jellies) takes to dry land for its fourth annual edition, as a celebration both of our city’s seaside heritage and its welcoming spirit of diversity and community. Repositioned this year to the end of June from its previous perch in August, the event is a relatively recent addition to the yearly slate of outdoor concerts, carnivals, parades, foodfests, and fundraisers on and near the Asbury waterfront — although, as Jenn correctly points out, it’s a happening that’s perfectly in sync with the spirit of summers past.

Years before Atlantic City held its first Miss America pageant, it was Asbury Park’s annual Baby Parade that brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to the beachside boards, for an ever more elaborate display of fancy floats, costumed kiddies, and celebrity guests. As the 20th century progressed, the Easter Parade attracted scores of strolling families decked out in their seasonal bonnets and Sunday bests — and with the coming of the new millennium, a resurgent Asbury Park laughed at reports of its premature demise, as the NJ Zombie Walk brought Guinness-record numbers of well-behaved “walking dead” to the herringboned hardwoods of the boardwalk.

‘The day of the event is just non-stop fun…I’ve got the perma-grin on all day long,” says the organizer whose “ pelagic pedigree” includes the Sacramento Promenade of Mermaids, the successful annual event that she founded in 2011, and ran during the years when she called that California capital home (her Sacramento successor Alfonso Voychez serves as the Grand Marshal for the 2018 event in Asbury).

Upon moving back to Asbury Park a couple of years later, the industrious impresaria correctly surmised that the seaside city was practically crying out for a similar celebration of its own  — and in 2015, the first local Promenade was assembled as an independent companion event to the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival (that ever-expanding rave-up of reverb-drenched rock returns once more on the weekend of August 17-19). While the Promenade comes together with the welcome assistance of a volunteer crew of event planners, merch table personnel, dancers, musicians, and people wranglers, Ms. Mehmaid has never shied away from the lion-fish share of the organizational work — from signing up prize sponsors and assembling prize packages, to hammering out the logistical details with Madison Marquette and the city. Returning once again as primary sponsor is The Marilyn Schlossbach Group (Langosta Lounge, Pop’s Garage, Asbury Park Yacht Club, Lightly Salted Surf Mercado).

“This thing really starts in earnest with our marching in the Pride Parade each year,” says Jenn, acknowledging that the late-spring procession is often “a little early in the season for going around in plastic fish tails…and a little windy for walking down the street with a big banner.” The coming of the Promenade is teased with a major push on social media, in addition to warm-up events that included a Mermaid Dance Party at Langosta Lounge, and a mer-themed Dr. Sketchy art session at Bond Street Complex.

The aquatically tinged action commences on Saturday morning with a “Mermaid Grotto” gallery at A.P. Yacht Club that features vendors of handcrafted mermaid art and jewelry, as well as face painting for all ages. Registration for the Promenade begins at noon and continues until 2 p.m. at the event tent on the boardwalk, across Ocean Avenue from the Stone Pony and adjacent to Asbury Splash Park. Official Promenade of Mermaids t-shirts will be available for purchase on site, and a live performance will be delivered just prior to Promenade time by cast members of Lambertville’s Music Mountain Theatre production of the Disney musical The Little Mermaid.

At 2:05 p.m., the main-event Promenade takes shape, led by the strolling street performers of World Fusion/ belly dance troupe Gypsy Funk Squad. Taking place entirely on the boardwalk, the procession begins at the registration tent, continuing north to Convention Hall, and returning to home base for the judging of the costume contest.

While it’s free to take part in the Promenade (and just as free to cheer on the participants from the sidelines), all those who want to be considered for costume prizes can register officially for a $10 charge. As in past Promenades, a portion of each entry fee will be donated to a local nonprofit, with this year’s beneficiary being the land-animal lovers of Spring Lake-based Rescue Ridge.

As has become Promenade protocol, a King and Queen will be chosen; Best Costume and runner-up prizes will be awarded for individual adults and couples, along with first, second and third prizes for kids 14 and under. At 2:45, the costume contest begins at the registration tent area, with prizes in multiple categories, as awarded by an esteemed panel of judges (Grand Marshal Alfonso, Mondo Marilyn, Lily Stitches, and 2016 best-costume winner “Beariel”). A pair of special celebrity guests from mer-person subculture circles — Baltimore-based Merman Christian, and The Harlem Mermaid — will be on hand, as emcee Don Dazzo (of celebrated NJ bands The Whirling Dervishes and Everlounge) announces the winners in front of the tent at 3 p.m.

Prize packages feature swell swag from a vivid variety of locally based businesses that (naturally) include Mermaid Haberdashery, Mermaid’s Yuletide, and Mermaid Studio Photography. There are baskets and buckets of gift certificates and merchandise from purveyors of sweet treats (Days Ice Cream, Betty’s Ice Box, Purple Glaze), home and gift items (Big Spoon Little Spoon, Carla Gizzi, Foolish Ginger, Shelter Home), wearables (Rebel Supply, Sweet Joey’s), edibles (Proven Poké, Vintage Subs), and more (Motion Fit, Yellow Roof Pet Care). The Schlossbach Group is joined at the prize table by such boardwalk and downtown bars and restaurants as Cross + Orange, watermark, and newcomer Modine).

At the close of the boardwalk activities, the fun moves to the Yacht Club, with a 3:30-to-6 p.m. after-party featuring live music by the Gypsy Funk Squad. Then on Sunday afternoon from noon to 4 p.m., the pool at The Asbury Hotel is the setting for a “seaweed hangover” Mermaid Swim Party, hosted by Alfonso Voychez and boasting DJ tunes by Dazzo.

“Our mer-community is slowly growing bigger every year…I like that it’s remained at a good, manageable size each time, and I love that we have repeat participants,” says Jenn Mehmaid. “I blow the conch shell…and the people who hear it, answer!”

The siren call is out for all costumed mermaids, pirates and sea creatures to join in the fun — as well as for volunteers to assist in the day’s activities on Saturday. Visit www.asburyparkpromenadeofmermaids.com or email AsburyParkPromenade@gmail.com for more info; follow the event on all major social media platforms, and remember that motto: “Keep CLAM and Promenade On!”