The Colorful Tradition of the Main Street Electrical Parade

Posted by Staff on Friday, December 16th, 2011

Disneyland's Main Street Electical Parade Casey Jr. Drum

If ever there was a parade that embodied the spirit of a magical evening, it is Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade. Debuting in 1972, this colorful parade is still marching along today: though not down Disneyland’s Main Street. If you want to treat your eyes and ears to a dazzling display of lights and that unforgettable “Baroque Hoedown,” you can still catch the parade at the Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando, Florida. As you’ll soon find out, the Main Street Electrical Parade has disappeared and reappeared numerous times over the past forty years, so catch it while you can.

Whale from the Electrical Water Pageant at the Magic Kingdom, Florida

The Electrical Water Pageant

When the Main Street Electrical Parade first marched down Disneyland’s Main Street in 1972, it wasn’t the first nighttime light show to appear at a Disney Park. Just one year earlier, the Electrical Water Pageant first floated across the Seven Seas Lagoon at Walt Disney World. Much like the earliest version of the Main Street Electrical Parade, the pageant featured flat panels, in this case shaped like sea creatures, outlined in brilliant lights. Bob Jani, the pageant’s creator, was at that time looking for a way to attract more visitors to Disneyland during the evening hours. After the success of the Electrical Water Pageant, he decided to take the light show to the streets and got to work on an illuminated parade that would travel down Disneyland’s Main Street every summer night.

Alice in Wonderland Float, Main Street Electrical Parade, Disneyland

While many of the parade’s features have been altered or swapped out over the years, there are a handful of floats that have been an integral part of the show since day one. Casey Jr., towing a drum with the “Main Street Electrical Parade” emblazoned on the skin, is still chugging along. Other floats that have stood the test of time are those representing characters and scenes from some of Disney’s most beloved animated films, such as Alice In Wonderland, Dumbo, and Cinderella.

Even though the Main Street Electrical Parade is a visual treat bar none, the musical accompaniment has played just as important a role in endearing the parade to generations of Disney fans. The cheerful and out-of-this-world march is based on a piece called “Baroque Hoedown,” written by synthesizer pioneers Jean-Jacques Perry and Gershon Kingsley. The tune was hand picked by official park announcer, Jack Wagner, who took the piece over to Disney musical director, Jim Christensen, to be reworked and coordinated with the parade. Fine-tuning of the hoedown was carried out through 1979, including the addition of the famous opening lines featuring Jack Wagner’s voice processed through a vocoder.

Aside from the infectious melody, the soundtrack is also notable for the system through which it was delivered to the audience. To insure that everyone along Main Street would hear and see the exact same parade, a radio-triggered zone system was employed to coordinate the music coming through the park’s speakers with the approaching float. This means that as soon as a float enters a specific audio zone it triggers the appropriate section of the soundtrack. So no matter where you are standing along the parade route, you’ll see and hear the same parade as the rest of the audience.

Main Street Electrical Parade Farwell Button 1996

A button commemorating the parade’s final season in 1996

As we mentioned earlier, the parade has come and gone over the years. The first hiatus occurred  during the summers of 1975 and 1976, when the parade was temporarily replaced by America on Parade, a celebration of the United States Bicentennial. In the summers of 1983 and 1984, Disneyland once again pulled the plug on the parade to make way for Flights of Fantasy. When the parade returned in 1985, it ran continuously until 1996 when it was announced that the Main Street Electrical Parade would officially retire. However, such a beloved experience wasn’t going to disappear quietly into the night. The final performances were heavily advertised and drew such an overwhelming response that the last parade was moved back from October 15th to November 25th in order to accommodate the enormous crowds that showed up to catch a last glimpse of the magical procession.

Tinkerbell Float at Disney's Electrical Parade

Try as they might, Disney couldn’t let go of the parade forever. With many new features, such as a Tinker Bell Float, LED pixie dust, and updated digital displays, the parade ran at Disney California Adventure Park as Disney’s Electrical Parade from 2001 to 2010. Today, the parade is back where the first luminous seeds were planted at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. Considering the Main Street Electrical Parade’s long history and legions of devoted fans, don’t be too surprised if you someday find yourself standing alongside your children, grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren, watching the same “spectacular festival pageant of nighttime magic and imagination” merrily making its way down Main Street U.S.A..

Sources

Yesterland

D23: The Official Disney Fan Club

One response to “The Colorful Tradition of the Main Street Electrical Parade”

  1. June Manning says:

    I was just going through some old pictures in my children’s childhood albums. I am putting the pictures on my computer and found several of the Disney Parade showing a big candle marching down the street that said “1st Year”.

    Then I pulled up the year and found it was 1972. Wow, time flies.

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