For 365 days out of the year, they are everyday men and women. Just like the rest of us, they work regular jobs and sit in traffic; they, too, are susceptible to bad cell phone coverage. But one day out of every year, they are revered, pampered and worshipped like kings and queens by thousands of Jacksonians, possibly even by you.
Who are they? They are none other than The Bucketheads, those always anonymous, always just, arguably pious, judges of the Mal’s St. Paddy’s Parade.
It all started in 1984 or 1985, when the late Sam “Sambo” Mockbee, the internationally recognized architect, “organized” a group of fellow architects to don buckets and green robes and judge the parade that was started a few years earlier by Malcolm White. Whether Sambo received Malcolm’s blessing before or after his participation is not quite clear, but either way, “he secured it,” assures the Head Buckethead. Twenty-something years later, The Bucketheads continue to faithfully fulfill their judgeship every year (“It’s better than Christmas,” says one Buckethead) bestowing dozens of awards and thousands of dollars on the best float, walkers, marchers and anything else that enters what is consistently ranked as one of the top St. Paddy’s parades in the country.
Typically, nine men and women (“never more than sit in judgement of our nation’s Constitution”), all from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds, come together, gowned and bucketed, to lead the parade the first eight blocks before taking their places on a viewing stand in front of the Governor’s mansion. Once in position, The Bucketheads observe (most taking notes) each entry, looking for the “Je ne sais quoi” that captures the authentic, slapdash, homemade style of the original vision of the parade and of the Buckethead founder, Sambo. It’s an “interactive exercise,” the Deputy Buckethead tells me, referring to the performances and the “tribute” (restaurant gift certificates, single malt scotch, etc…) they receive from most entries. It’s a job, to say the least, with many perks and very few drawbacks, minus the occasional thrown jelly donut or beef stew. But “that’s when the buckets come in handy,” says the Head Buckethead, a 17-year veteran.
Once the parade is over, The Bucketheads circle the coolers and get down to the business of deciding who wins the much coveted “Sambo Mockbee Best of Show” Award, the “Willie Morris’ Bowling Trophy,” the highly valued “Arthur Mahoney Spirit Award,” and a dozen or so other awards.
For The Bucketheads, and all who are involved in the parade, Mal’s St. Paddy’s Parade is arguably the most fun event in Jackson, but The Bucketheads won’t let you think for a second that all the frivolousness is purely frivolous. “We perform a serious function. It’s a street party, yes, but it is much more than that. We have a much greater end in focus.” The award givers, The Bucketheads play the important role of preservers of the parade’s tradition, a tradition that symbolizes and continues the ingenuity and creativity that makes Jackson the wonderful place that it is. Their greatest honor of all, though, is helping to raise thousands of dollars every year for the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children. As the Deputy Buckethead succinctly describes their role and the day, “It’s serious…fun.”