ALBANY/LEESBURG — Anyone unable to dredge up a heaping helping of Christmas spirit in downtown Leesburg Saturday morning and downtown Albany Saturday evening must have carried the surname Scrooge ... or maybe Grinch.
With a pair of parades, a country music concert, ice skating — yes, ice skating! — beauty queens, the Grinch, food trucks galore and pretty much anything officials in both cities could imagine, thousands of spectators in both communities came out to be a part of the festivals that kicked off the holiday season in earnest.
“I’m actually holding him up,” Brooke Carswell said of her boyfriend, Mark Perigo, although it was Brooke who looked a tad shaky on her ice skates adjacent to the Flint RiverQuarium in downtown Albany. “I skated before when I was younger, and when I saw they had this this year, I definitely wanted to come try it out. That’s why we came.”
Eight-year-old Ma’Currensi Nixon said he picked up his skating skills in a roller rink, but he had no problem skating rings around Carswell and other novices giving the activity a go in downtown Albany.
Laura Williams of Americus sat with her niece, Caroline Richards, 9, in a strategic spot to catch parade entries — and candy — Saturday morning along Main Street in downtown Leesburg. Caroline was on hand, partly, to scout parade protocol.
“She’s going to be in the Albany parade, on a float,” Williams said. “She wanted to see both parades, so here we are.”
Like Caroline, Kurt Baker also pulled double duty, emceeing both the Leesburg and Albany parades. Saturday evening’s gig on Pine Avenue was Baker’s 29th year introducing participants in the Albany parade.
“The first year we did this, I brought my six-week-old daughter, Cassidy, had her wrapped up in a pumpkin outfit,” Baker, a long-time radio personality, said. “Now, I’m here with my grandkids, watching the excitement on their faces as they check out the floats, the music and wait for Santa Claus. It’s just an amazing Albany tradition, a fun day for everyone.”
Downtown Albany Manager Lequrica Gaskins said she’d heard nothing but positive remarks as she walked the 100 and 200 blocks of Pine, taking in the excitement of the Christmas Village on the 100 block of Pine before the start of the parade.
“It’s really going great,” Gaskins said. “We have 95 parade participants and between 30 and 35 vendors. We wanted to try some new things this year, like the ice skating, test them to see what the community wanted. We’ll keep adding new things — events and entertainment — as long as the community supports it.”
Support was not an issue in either community, as spectators lined the streets along both parade routes. Most of the paradegoers stuck around in Leesburg to hear rising country music artist Danny Dawson perform. He drew a crowd of admirers in the hometown of country music superstar Luke Bryan.
Restaurateur/businessman Glenn Singfield watched the festivities from the balcony of his family restaurant, The Flint. He said events like the Christmas parade and Christmas Village are good for business, despite the street being closed to traffic.
“Anytime you have an event like this, it helps our downtown businesses,” Singfield said. “A lot of people see that there is a safe, family environment here, and that’s going to encourage more of them to come back downtown.”
Officers with the Albany Police Department — as well as the Lee County Sheriff’s Office (except Sheriff Reggie Rachals, who was driving a vehicle in the parade) and the Leesburg Police Department — were out in force during the day’s activities, making sure that the family atmosphere Singfield spoke of prevailed.
“It always depends on the weather, but it looks like we’ve got a good crowd today,” APD Patrol Officer Nakia Ellis said. “There have been no issues; it’s just a fun, family atmosphere.”
Not even the Grinch — or a Scrooge — could do anything to dampen that.