If you think you’re seeing double at this year’s Joe Cain parade, it may have nothing to do with whatever you’ve been drinking.
The Joe Cain Parading Society announced Tuesday its 2015 procession will be led by a representation of Joe Cain himself, not Chief Slacabamorinico, who has held the traditional spot for the past three decades.
“Out of respect for tradition and out of respect for Wayne Dean, we are not going to have an imposter chief,” said Greg Watts, the society’s advisory board chairman.
Watts’ 28-year-old son, Thomas Watts, will portray Joe Cain, wearing an 1860s period business suit consisting of a black frock coat, pants and cravat. He will ride in the mule wagon with the society’s grand marshals, behind half of the Excelsior Band and a unit of foot marchers.
Chief Slac himself, who has long been portrayed by Dean, will follow the Parading Society’s floats with a new society of foot marchers, the Joe Cain Marching Society, which obtained a separate permit last year after breaking ties with the Parading Society. The other half of the Excelsior Band will march with Slac.
The shake-up is the result of new rules instituted by the Parading Society last year requiring all foot marchers to register for the parade and pay a fee for insurance. Many believed it put an undue burden on what has long been considered “the people’s parade,” open to all who wish to march.
The Mobile Police Department determined the lineup of this year’s procession, awarding the spot at the head of the parade to the Parading Society, citing its seniority as a permit holder. While some animosity may remain between the two organizations, Tuesday’s announcement appears to settle the ensuing debate and put to rest rumors the Parading Society would introduce a Chief Slac imposter.
“That was never even considered,” Jim Baldwin, one of the Parading Society’s directors and parade coordinator, said of having two Chief Slacs.
Thomas Watts is the great grandson of Louis Diemert, who was named the “The Man of Many Faces” for his Mardi Gras portrayals from the 1920s to 1950s. Watts will take up his great-grandfather’s “avocation of Mardi Gras and frivolity,” and “continue a family tradition,” Greg Watts said.
According to Baldwin, there is room for multiple people to portray the “mystical” Joe Cain character and said the new motto for Cain is “I was here, I was there, I was everywhere. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
For his part, Dean inherited the role of Chief Slac from Julian Rayford, who is largely credited for elevating Cain as the “father of Mobile Mardi Gras” and parading in Cain’s honor beginning in 1967.
Originally known as the Joe Cain Marching Society, the group evolved into the Joe Cain Parading Society after it ceased its role as the caretaker of the Church Street Cemetery and added floats and other units to the procession through the years.
In an interview last month, Dean called the recent controversy “nothing personal,” but expressed concern over the spirit of the procession.
“Joe Cain would not be a happy camper at all,” Dean speculated. “I know Julian Rayford would be beating on (Mayor) Stimpson’s door to keep it like it was. It took him 11 years to have Joe Cain dug up and reburied at the Church Street Graveyard, but he also wanted a festival people could participate in without having to join. If you don’t have the spirit of Joe Cain and Julian Rayford you have just another parade.”
Tuesday Baldwin acknowledged Dean’s decision to join the Marching Society by saying, “he’s very passionate and had a philosophical opposition.” When Dean made his departure, Baldwin said it “took the option off our plate” to have him lead this year’s parade.
“We would like to have Chief Slac leading the Joe Cain Parading Society, but that’s up to Wayne,” Watts added.
Since 2008, the Joe Cain Parading Society parade has required foot marchers to register, but it “simply didn’t happen” from 2011 to 2013, even though it was still requested by the Mobile Police Department, according to Baldwin.
“There’s no parade in Mobile where someone doesn’t know who’s in it,” he said.
Further, Baldwin said having his name on the parade permit puts him as the responsible party for the event, and he could not overlook the requests made by MPD.
“It’s amazing to me the controversy that has grown, but the whole point of this is to have fun,” Watts said.
“We’ve just simply got to move forward.”
Both societies are limited to no more than 200 foot marchers, meaning there could potentially be 400 marchers. If space is still available on the day of the parade, new marchers will be welcome to join.
Watts said while he hates to even say it’s two societies, the Parading Society believes the idea of a longer parade could actually be a positive note to come out of the ordeal.
While the Parading Society announced this solution for this year’s parade, they have not committed to the idea for next year.
“There’s no telling what will happen in the future,” Watts said.