Joye in Aiken kicks off with downtown jazz funeral parade
It was a night of jazz and joy in downtown Aiken as the city’s first New Orleans-style jazz funeral parade danced through the streets.
The parade marks the kickoff of Joye in Aiken, an annual music festival that features concerts, outreach performances and other events, many of which are led by Juilliard artists.
The funeral parade also featured students from USC Aiken’s jazz band and Aiken High School, who got to join in with the Juilliard artists to play jazzy classics like “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The musicians played freestyle music behind the Shellhouse caisson towed by two horses. Unlike a traditional parade, where onlookers stay on the sidelines, people joined in the procession as it wheeled its way through downtown Aiken.
“I think it’s just one more example why Aiken is the No. 1 city in the Southeast,” said Steve Homoki, who attended the parade with his wife, Zee. “What a turnout. We figured 100 people would be good, but it looked like maybe 300 or 400.”
Zee Homoki said she has been on the board of Joye in Aiken “forever.” She loved watching people come out of stores to watch the parade pass by and to see everyone’s masks for the event.
Many people were dressed in red – Joye in Aiken’s signature color. The Newberry Street fountain, in keeping with tradition, was also dyed red for the start of the festival.
In honor of the recent Mardi Gras season, many people dressed in purple, green and gold. Masks, beads and umbrellas were part of many people’s costumes.
“It’s fun to listen to the music,” said Lorena Turick, who has been attending Joye in Aiken for around 10 years. “It’s nice, even if it’s grown so much that it doesn’t always have that small-town feel.”
The parade ended in the Alley, where the musicians played more music surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon joined in on the bass guitar, one of his favorite hobbies.
“It was larger than life,” said Riley Mulherkar, a musician and Juilliard alumni who has performed in Joye in Aiken for years. “I had no idea what to expect. I showed up with my horn and all these students … they all played their butts off. It brought the whole community together. That’s what’s amazing.”
Mulhelkar, who is the artistic director of Joye in Aiken, called the town a “wonderful place” and expressed his thanks to the community for welcoming them. He said he was “so excited” for Joye in Aiken to get into full swing this coming weekend.