Andrea Mercury will be securing the last rhinestones and final feathers to her band’s Carnival costumes up to the last possible second.
“Until it’s time to actually go on the road, we’ll be here,” working in her backyard, the veteran bandleader of SocaHolics said. “No one’s sleeping right now — none of us.”
SocaHolics’s 300 masqueraders will march down Martin Luther King Boulevard in Roxbury Saturday alongside a dozen other bands taking part in the annual festival, embodying their chosen theme of “Toxic: Beautiful but Deadly.” The elaborate costumes and concept have taken months of assembly and detailed execution.
“When it comes down to this time,” just days before the festival, Mercury said, “it’s a lot of anxiety, it’s a lot of stress, it’s a lot of excitement.”
But her band is prepared for the final push during the last few days, she said. The SocaHolics won Band of the Year in 2016 and are competing for the title again this year.
“When you see it all come together, it’s like, wow this is all of our work, this is that final product, this is the outcome,” Mercury said. “Everyone is so happy and so colorful and so beautiful.”
The Carnival Festival in Boston officially started last weekend with the Kiddies Carnival. But the main events culminate on Saturday with an early morning J’ouvert and midday parade. The weekend events kick off Thursday with a King and Queen Show, in which representatives of each band compete for top marks.
The costumes for the king and queen are often the most elaborate, said Michael C. Smith, president of Boston Carnival Village. The costumes are built on a wire framework or skeleton and then adorned with layers of eccentric decoration.
“Wire bending is, I like to call, an art,” Smith said. “You bend the wires, and then you bring the pieces together to form its skin.” Trinidadian Carnival, which the Boston celebration is based on, calls for new costumes for each celebration. “Everything you see on the street,” he said, “they’re literally reconstructed every year.”
If the demands of costume making weren’t daunting enough, Smith said, band members often hold full-time jobs.
“So they go and do their job and then stay up at night in the garage or in the backyard,” he said. “And that becomes the site for assembly.”
Bandleaders distribute hundreds of intricate costumes in the days leading up to the festival. On the day of the parade, they’ll distribute swag bags and food to keep morale up, said Shanta Simmons-Farley, a longtime masquerader and first-time bandleader.
“They have choice; everybody can go [to another band],” Simmons-Farley said. “You want to make them feel as though they made the right choice in coming to you.”
Simmons-Farley formed the Ol’ Mas band for this year’s celebration as a cost-effective option for masqueraders: Her band members will rewear old Carnival costumes collected over decades of festivals. Costumes can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000, she said, a steep price for masqueraders who purchase a new one each year.
Recycling costumes means Simmons-Farley can skip the scramble to pin and feather the final touches, but she’s not coasting to Saturday. She’s been preparing food and goodie bags for band members and is gearing up to decorate the band’s truck. She’s even anticipating adding some members to her 200-person band.
“It all culminates on that one day,” she said. “To get it all together [for] that one day.”Sara Salinas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.