Music boomed, and a DJ bellowed: “Show me your ID! Show me your flag!”
Dozens of dancers in fuschia and neon green feathered headdresses raised their fists in the air, clutching their banners: blue and red for Haiti; green, black, and gold for Jamaica; red, black, and white for Trinidad and Tobago, symbolizing fire, earth, and water. The pavement of Martin Luther King Boulevard sparkled with gold glitter, and the dancers shimmied to the beat.
Boston’s Carnival Day parade, a celebration of Caribbean culture, drew thousands Saturday afternoon, winding from MLK Boulevard and Warren Street down Blue Hill Avenue to Franklin Park Zoo. Masqueraders decorated their faces with jewels, and some wore wings 20 feet tall. The parade followed the early-morning J’ouvert celebration, a raucous and sometimes bawdy march down Blue Hill Avenue in which revelers cover themselves in paint and colored powder and dance to steel drums.
“I love this; I live for this!” exclaimed Missy Soprano, decked out in pink feathers, as she stepped out of a group of dancers in the carnival parade to say hello to her husband. She traveled the world for parades like this one, she said.
Nicole Carter and her husband, Greg, brought their 22-month-old daughter, Adrianna, to the parade because she loves music and they want her to feel the community spirit there.
“This is ours,” Nicole exclaimed, as Greg rocked Adrianna to the music at the edge of the revelers. “My family.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Police Commissioner William B. Evans marched at the front of the parade.
“It’s a fun day; it’s one of the festival parades that I enjoy — you have so many different cultures celebrated,” Walsh said. “You walk the parade route and everyone has their own flag.”
Walsh and Evans lamented the deadly violence that preceded the day’s celebrations: Three men were shot, one fatally, during parties held Friday night and in the early hours of Saturday before J’ouvert.
A fourth man was shot and killed on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain Saturday morning. Officials said he was targeted and had no connection to any festivities.
The night before J’ouvert has often been marked by violence, as young people drink all night ahead of the early morning festivities. Last year, Evans said, five people were shot in the lead-up to the carnival parade, one fatally. The year before, 26-year-old Dawnn Jaffier was shot to death when she was caught in the crossfire of a gang fight on her way to J’ouvert.
“I hate to always tie it to the parade because those events themselves are great family events,” Evans said. “Unfortunately, people are up all night partying.”
As the Carnival Day parade wound down, however, a person was stabbed at 5:15 p.m. at 515 Blue Hill Ave., police said. The parade already had passed the point on the route where the stabbing occurred. The person was expected to survive.
“We are saddened to hear that there was an incident. That’s not what carnival is about,” said Mary-dith Tuitt, a spokeswoman for the Caribbean American Carnival Association of Boston. “We hope that the person is doing well, with no long-lasting issues.”
This year, J’ouvert was peaceful. The celebration, which occurs at daybreak and marks the opening of a day of revelry, kicked off just before 7 a.m. with the pounding of drums and the trill of whistles, and thousands of people dancing down the street, covering each other in black, yellow, white, and blue paint and throwing powder. In J’ouvert, participants wear costumes that are dark and often humorous — one man carried a dead rat, while a woman pushed a baby carriage with a doll covered in black paint and glitter.
“We come here to party!” shouted a woman who gave her name as Sophia B., her arms raised to the sky and her face a vivid dash of yellow.
City Councilor Tito Jackson was in the midst of the festivities, his suit covered in white smudges from where he had been hugged by paint-covered constituents shouting “Tito!”
The Rev. Mark V. Scott, associate pastor at Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester, stood on the corner of Talbot Avenue listening to the steel drums and remembered the first time he heard the ringing beat. He was about 20 and had just moved to Boston from Chicago, where the Caribbean community was far smaller.
“It’s a beautiful instrument,” he said, smiling. “I loved it so much I married a Trinidadian woman.”
They honeymooned in Trinidad, he said, which has many bands throughout the city whose music can be heard all day and night.
“I love this,” he said.
Clouds of powder burst into the air as the parade snaked down Blue Hill Avenue. People draped themselves in Caribbean flags and wore twisting horns. Men dressed as Power Rangers twisted and danced with laughing women who videotaped them.
Irwin Holloway, a grinning and bearded 47-year-old, had arrived dressed in a wedding dress and long blonde wig.
“My bride run away and left me!” he exclaimed in his lilting accent. He comes every year, he said, and always does something different. “I’m from Barbados; it reminds me of home.”
Ezra Simmons wore a bright and bejeweled costume covered in bright feathers, sequins, and beads, complete with a bright red-fringed top hat and a cane. The 70-year-old said he spent two months making it.
“This is an original fancy sailor,” he said. “Sailors on shore leave — you’re in the war, you come out, you make a costume, and you get in it.”
His mother is from Barbados, his father from Jamaica, and he was born in Trinidad, he said, where he was captain of two steel bands. He visits all the time and always attends Boston’s J’ouvert.
“You don’t give up your home,” he said.