FIFTH ANNUAL PROMENADE’S A DAY TO MERM-EMBER

Jenn Mehmaid is front and center at last year’s Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids, the family-fin event that returns to dry land this Saturday, June 29. (Photos by Mermaid Studio)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), June 27, 2019

As Jennifer Mehm tells it, she was living far from Atlantis — and thousands of miles from her native Jersey Shore — when she got the notion of bringing her lifelong love of “Mermanity” to finny fruition on the streets of her then-hometown of Sacramento.

“That first year was more like a flash mob than a formal event, because the town wouldn’t give us a permit,” she says of the California city’s Promenade of Mermaids for which she served as founder (or flounder?). “Then all of these people started showing up…and now here they are, in their ninth year, with a big annual happening!”

Upon returning to the Asbury Park area a few years later, the woman known from coast to coast as “Jenn Mehmaid” also returned to her original vision of a fun and family-friendly outdoor event; one that would fold her passion for those “beautiful and exotic” legendary denizens of the deep into a celebration of our seaside setting, in all its colorful diversity and inclusive spirit.

Thus was born the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids, an event that’s become a summertime staple since its first inquisitive incursion onto dry land in 2015 — as well as a worthy companion to the generations of grand Baby Parades, elegant Easter Parades, and world-record Zombie Walks that have made the herringboned hardwoods of the famous boardwalk the place to be for walkers, marchers, runners, strollers and rollers of all ages, shapes, sizes, and stages of decomposition.

When the Promenade assembles for its fifth annual edition this Saturday afternoon, June 29, it will boast its signature mix of marching mer-people (and pirates, and sea creatures, and shorebirds) with eclectic music, exotic dancers, unique handcrafted merch, and literal basket-loads of fabulous prizes, courtesy of some of the greater Asbury area’s favorite purveyors of goods and services. It will maintain the vibe with a series of post-Prom meet ‘n greets, special film screenings, and “happy hangover” pool parties — and it will also take things to the next sea-level, when it sets up its base of operations for the first time across from the Convention Hall complex, on the spacious expanse of Bradley Park. It’s there, under the quizzically stony gaze of Founder Bradley, that attendees will find the event’s Registration Tent, where prospective promenaders can sign up to walk the boards between the hours of 12 and 2 pm (while there’s no charge to participate in the march, a $10 registration fee qualifies entrants to compete for the prize packages in various adult, child, and group costume categories).

Also present within the “pie slices” of the park layout are a mermaid-themed midway featuring two “traveling boutiques” (Penelope Boutique of Highlands; Traveling Mermaid of Westwood) and some 30 vendors of handmade art, jewelry and home decor items, open for business from 10 am to 4 pm. Event DJ Don Dazzo (who veteran NJ music maniacs will know as frontman/mastermind of The Whirling Dervishes and Everlounge) will be on premises as well, and fish-out-of-water marchers can take advantage of a cooling-tent area, with bottled water provided gratis by Wegman’s of Ocean Township.

A crew of “Sea Staff” volunteers will also be on hand to assist and direct both experienced promenaders and curious passersby alike, while strollers will further find informational displays from a pair of hard-working regional nonprofits — Sandy Hook-based Clean Ocean Action, and Marine Mammal Stranding Center of Brigantine. And, whether they identify as a starfish, shellfish, jellyfish, dogfish, or even catfish, attendees can seize their “chance for sea creatures and cats to be the best of friends,” as a portion of all event proceeds will be dedicated to Catsbury Park, the animal rescue operation (and its popuar “cat cafe” in downtown AP) founded by Dean “DJ Values” Bornschein. There’s a free sticker to be had too, for every attendee who donates a can of cat food to the cause.

The Gypsy Funk Squad in action, sounding the keynote and setting the pace for the Promenade.

Of course, the centerpiece of the action is the Promenade itself; a happening that invites sea-dwellers to “Get Your Land Legs On and STRUT” beginning at 2 pm.

Commencing from the park, crossing the street to the boardwalk, heading south toward the Casino, and returning up Ocean Avenue to the event judging area, the procession will be led once again by the mobile musical unit that is the Gypsy Funk Squad. A fixture at every Promenade (and affiliated fundraiser) since the event’s inception, the strolling world-music specialists will sound the keynote and set the pace for the elaborately costumed caravan.

With participants having seriously upped their game in the custom-crafted costumes department, Jenn Mehmaid has assembled an esteemed panel of four judges (including Ocean Grove resident Linda Jean, a longtime official at the iconic Coney Island Mermaid Parade), who will make their deliberations while the crowd is entertained with a live performance by the always amazing artists of the Sharqidance belly dance troupe.

The judging portion of the afternoon climaxes with the selection of the King and Queen — and in a move that signals the seriousness of this competition (as well as the commitment of the City of Asbury Park to the event’s success), the Promenade has proudly announced that the event’s 2019 Grand Marshal, Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn, will personally select the top category prize winners.

“The prizes this year are just phenomenal…our local businesses have been very generous,” says Jenn in reference to the multi-prize baskets (some of them assembled and donated by past contest winners and their equally enthusiastic families) that include some high-value items from sponsors like Asbury Park Distilling, Ninth Wave Tattoo, Kur Wellness and Belmar’s Marina Grille, to name but a very few (check the website, AsburyParkPromenadeofMermaids.com for a full listing of local sponsors).

Left: Promenade sponsor Marilyn Schlossbach (center) with Jenn Mehmaid and Micah of Mermaid Studio. At right: Merrow Nikki of Land & Sea Mermaid Character Parties poses poolside at last year’s “seweed hangover” party, hosted at The Asbury Hotel.

Principal sponsor from the get-go has been Marilyn Schlossbach, with the exec chef and visionary of the Schlossbach Group (Langosta Lounge, Asbury Park Yacht Club, Pop’s Garage, Catering by Marilyn) having signed on to the lead role upon first being approached by Jenn in 2015. As the main Mermaid recalled, the restaurateur “was so into the whole idea, she was like ‘where have you been my whole life’…and she’s been great to us; we actually turned a profit for the first time last year, and it was the first time I haven’t had to ask her for money for expenses.”

The AP Yacht Club rock bar is the setting at 4 pm for the now-traditional All Ages After Party, with Gypsy Funk Squad doing the live music honors once again. Then when the evening tide rolls in, the rooftop Baronet movie lounge of the Asbury Hotel is the scenic-panorama scene, as the boutique hotel and eclectic entertainment complex offers a sundown screening of Ron Howard’s hit fantasy-romcom Splash, with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah (in a memorable turn as a bi-legged-curious mermaid in the big city). The Mer-merriment continues on into Sunday, July 30, when the Asbury hosts a day-after Mermaid Pool Party from 12 to 2 pm, with DJ Alex providing the soundtrack, and all manner of land or sea creatures welcome at poolside. Then at sundown, it’s back topside to the Baronet lounge, where The Little Mermaid closes out the extended Promenade interlude in classic Disney animation style (admission to either of the film screening events is $7).

While Jenn has designed the Promenade as a thing that shows consistent and incremental growth while remaining at “a good, manageable size,” there are signs that the little “seagrass-roots” happening is writing a new chapter in its success story, with the event ringmistress expecting upwards of 300 march participants (some confirmed as coming from as far inland as Colorado) — and the boardwalk Promenade attracting increased interest from serious practitioners of competitive costume design.

“I’ve had lots of requests in the past from bachelor and bachelorette parties, seeking permission to use our event as a background for their photos,” the Mehmaid explains. “This year, I’ve had my first request for a wedding party photo shoot…imagine having us as your wedding guest list!”

While Jenn has maintained that “I’ve got the perma-grin on all day long” for the duration of the actual event day, the multi-tasking Mehmaid freely admits that devoting most of a calendar year to taking on the lion-fish share of work for a growing public event carries with it no small share of side-gig stress — in that “my legs are getting less of a gap, so a tail is forming…and I think I’m developing scales. I am becoming a mermaid!”

So, whether you’re “a sleek siren of a MER person, or a salty old scalawag of a pirate…a little cutie from Atlantis or an age-old Ruler of the Seas…a seagull, seahorse, cephalopod” or (last year’s winner) “a pool shark,” there’s never been a better opportunity for sea-dwellers to experience life on the topside and take a memorable walk in the sun. “Go fish for ‘de tails’ by visiting AsburyParkPromenadeofMermaids.com, or follow the event’s social media accounts on Facebook (@AsburyParkPromenadeof Mermaids), Twitter (@AsburyPromenade), and Instagram (@AsburyParkMermaidPromenade).