Most people would be easing their way into retirement by age 65, but not only does the Ocean City Night in Venice Boat Parade have no intention of stopping any time soon, it has gained momentum in scope and size in recent years.
Dozens of decorated boats will parade across the Ocean City bay, from the Longport bridge to Tennessee Avenue, starting 5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 13. A house-and-condo decorating contest is part of the festivities, and early registration for both boat and home participants were well ahead of this time last year, according to Ocean City Special Events Coordinator Michael Hartman.
This will also be the third summer since the boat parade’s 1954 founding that a series of events are tied into the flagship attraction. In years past, boat and home decorations adhered to a specific theme, but this year’s was left open to celebrate memories of the past 65 years.
Rock ’n’ roll pioneer Chubby Checker, who was raised in South Philly, and his band kick off the festivities with a concert 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 12, at the Ocean City Music Pier. Another local product, Kate Flannery, best known as the hilarious character Meredith Palmer on the long-running NBC-TV comedy “The Office,” will host a meet-and-greet at the Music Pier at noon on Saturday, and Caissie Levy, star of the Broadway hit “Frozen,” will perform with the Ocean City Pops 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Pier.
All three celebrities will wave to the crowds from parade boats Saturday, as will former NFL wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, who was a key member of the Philadelphia Eagles when they made their second Super Bowl appearance in 2005.
“We’re expecting well over 300 participants in boats, houses and condos,” Hartman says. “And this is the third summer we’re making it into a jam-packed weekend instead of just one very weather-dependent event. It puts the spotlight on the Ocean City Pops, the concert at the Music Pier and the whole town, and gives it energy from start to finish, Friday through Sunday.”
After the parade, starting around dusk Saturday, a fireworks display will light up the sky over the bay.
“If you’ve never seen a fireworks show at the bay, you haven’t seen a fireworks show,” Hartman says. “It’s really beautiful. To see them reflecting off the bay, it almost looks 3-D or with some sort of virtual-reality special effects going on. It’s absolutely stunning.
“Last year I was on a boat with ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Maks (Chmerkovskiy) and he kept saying ‘I’m absolutely speechless. I’ve never seen anything like this.’ And this is coming from an international performer.”
This year’s Night in Venice weekend is about two weeks earlier than it was last summer, in order to optimize the highest late-day tide.
“It’s a little earlier this year because this was the best Saturday in July as far as the tides go,” Hartman says. “Things are coming together, but it took a lot to get ready so soon after Fourth of July weekend. No sooner was that over than we turn around and Night in Venice is right in our face.”
Viewing the boat parade from any bayside home or street end is free, and there will be free parking at three locations in the city (see info box below). For those interested in attending the parade with no set location in mind, Hartman recommends a viewing area at the O.C. Bayside Center at 520 Bay Ave., which is $4 for children and $8 for adults.
“For people who don’t have a house on the bay or don’t want to have to jockey for a spot on a street end, the Bayside Center is a really affordable prime viewing location,” he says. “We’ll have an emcee there who will narrate the parade as the boats go by, and you’re basically right in front of where the fireworks get shot off around 9 o’clock. There’s also a deejay, a snack stand, games for kids — it’s a great, interactive way to experience the parade and the fireworks show afterward.”
Flannery back in her beach element
Kate Flannery not only hails from Philly’s Main Line and University of the Arts, she has Ocean City sand in her shoes from early childhood.
Now a Los Angeles resident, Flannery’s family still owns the O.C. home her grandparents bought decades ago, and she makes regular returns to the Jersey Shore and Philly area to visit family and friends. Her father owned a bar called Flannery’s Tavern in Philly’s Germantown section from 1953 to 1998, and her brother owned T.A. Flannery’s for years in Center City until selling it in 2011.
Next week at 8 p.m., July 18, Flannery will perform at Dante Hall in A.C. as part of the Ducktown Summer Series (go to DaveDamiani.com). Prior to that, however, Flannery is part of this weekend’s Night in Venice activities.
At The Shore spoke with Flannery by phone in advance of her Night in Venice appearance.
ATS: How often to you get back to this area?
KF: Pretty often, especially in the summertime. My grandparents bought a house in Ocean City in the 1920s, and we still have it and have been going there for years, since I was very little. In fact I was just there a few weeks ago and it was great to be back.
Three years ago, (fellow actress and singer) Jane Lynch and I performed together at the Borgata, and last year I got to sing with the Ocean City Pops, which I loved.
ATS: I’m told that you and your twin sister were former winners in the Ocean City Baby Parade (which returns to the O.C. Boardwalk for the 110th year on Aug. 8).
KF: (Laughs) Yes! We won the Baby Parade and I still have our winning candlesticks with our names engraved on them from back then.
ATS: What is your past experience or involvement with Night in Venice?
KF: When I was really young my sisters and I used to go to the Harbor House (Marina Club) and sit on the dock at watch the parade, and my parents had friends who had houses along the parade route where we’d go and hang out, watch the parade and have a big party. But this will be my first time experiencing it from a boat, which should be pretty wild.
ATS: You mentioned Jane Lynch — are you and she still touring and doing shows together?
KF: Yes, we did a Christmas show a couple of years ago that did really well, and we’re doing a new show that debuted last September where I think we did 34 shows in 23 cities in 30 days. It was really nuts. We’re going to do another Christmas show this year too, but I don’t think it’s going to be quite as big.
The Christmas album we produced (“A Swingin’ Little Christmas”) actually got as high as number 6 on the Billboard Top 10, and that’s a hard market to crack. That was like a badge of legitimacy that we weren’t expecting.
The first show we did together (at Borgata) was called “See Jane Sing”. The new one is called “Two Lost Souls”, which I describe as kind of like the Rat Pack but with a couple of broads. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and it’s a fun sort of anti-cabaret act with a great band — the Tony Guerrero Quintet. They’re really wonderful.
ATS: You are one of seven siblings — how much did being part of a big Irish-Catholic family factor into your excellent sense of humor?
KF: They go hand in hand. When you’re from a big family you have to find ways to get attention somehow, so I’m sure I drove everybody crazy when I was a kid. But luckily it paid off. I wasn’t just annoying to the neighbors and my parents and my siblings for no reason.
My dad has a very good sense of humor. It always came out when he worked behind the bar.
ATS: How often do you get recognized in public?
KF: Quite often. Some people say they fall asleep with me each night. That would ordinarily sound kind of creepy, but I know they’re talking about “The Office.”