HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK, Arkansas — With the First Ever 20th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade exactly six months away, Visit Hot Springs has signed the iconic band Village People to perform a free public concert on March 18, the day after the famous little parade.
“There’s no more iconic band from the ‘70s era than Village People,” Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison said this week. “They’ll bring an added level of fun and entertainment to Hot Springs on the evening following the parade. I’ll personally guarantee a fun time for everyone who comes back on down to Bridge Street on March 18 to do the ‘Y.M.C.A’ song with the band.
“With six months to go, we’re also announcing that The Molly Ringwalds band, which was such a hit at the Memorial Day festivities at the Hot Springs Airport, will be back in town to entertain at a free public concert immediately after the parade on St. Patrick’s Day. We were flooded with calls asking us to bring them back to town for the parade. They knocked the Memorial Day crowd out with incredible cover versions of memorable tunes from the 1980s, so we decided to bring them back for the 20th anniversary of the parade.”
Arrison, who founded the parade back in 2003, said parade organizers are also working to finalize plans for signing the celebrity grand marshal and the celebrity official starter for the parade.
“The 20th anniversary edition of the parade will be pretty special,” he said. “We’ll want the crowd to enjoy Hot Springs in celebrating our city’s equivalent of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras. Hard to believe it was 20 years ago when a bunch of us were sharing a beer at Spencer’s Corner and wondering how to take advantage of the fact that Bridge Street — right outside the door — is recognized as the shortest street in the world in everyday use. It dawned on me that we could have a 98-foot parade and bill it as the world’s shortest.
“That was 20 years ago, and for years now our wacky little parade has brought international attention to Hot Springs as a really great place to have a good time.”
The parade annually attracts crowds of upwards of 30,000 people to watch an insanely zany collection of Irish Elvis impersonators, marching units, floats, dancers and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, as well as other unique units cover the 98-foot length of Bridge Street.
Village People is one of the most iconic music groups in the world. Their music is part of the international songbook and has been featured in numerous motion pictures, on Broadway, and in commercials. Of course, “Y.M.C.A.” (along with its namesake dance) is played at almost every party and sporting event in the world. They’ve sold over 100 million records worldwide.
The debut album, released in 1977 featured the hit singles “San Francisco (You’ve Got Me),” and “In Hollywood (Everybody is a Star).” At that time, however, the group was just Victor Willis with use of session background singers. So, the original Village People was simply Victor Willis. Auditions were later held, and a group of characters was assembled around Willis for a 1977 television appearance on “American Bandstand,” which became the first version of Village People.
Soon Village People became a real group but was revamped to form a second iteration in time for release of the Macho Man album. This second version of Village People soon became an international phenomenon and the second album, Macho Man, soon went platinum (over a million albums sold) featuring the album’s namesake platinum single, “Macho Man.”
This was followed by the third double platinum album titled “Cruisin,” which featured the blockbuster hit “Y.M.C.A.” Next up was the platinum album Go West featuring the gold single “In the Navy.” The group’s sixth album went gold, titled: Live & Sleazy, which featured Victor Willis performing all the prior hits live from the Greek Theatre, while introducing new lead singers for the Sleazy portion of the album as Victor Willis prepared to exit the group.
In November 1979, Willis exited the group during filming of the “Can’t Stop the Music” movie and motion picture soundtrack. This marked the group’s first album to not be certified gold or platinum.
The disco era ended, and Village People soon disbanded. Willis returned to the group in 1982 to record the Fox on the Box album, and soon exited again.
A touring version of the group (without Willis) with use of prerecorded music/tracks and numerous replacement members followed in the late-1980s. Over the years, various replacement members continued to tour as a track act well into the 2000s.
Willis returned once again as lead singer in 2017 leading up to the group’s 40th anniversary. Village People’s iconic cop and writer of the group’s biggest hits, including “Y.M.C.A.,” “Macho Man,” “Go West.” and “In the Navy,” is once again at the helm of Village People with live musicians backing the group as he originally intended.
The group returned to the charts in 2019 with a Christmas Album and in 2020 with “Happiest Time of the Year,” and “If You Believe,” both written by Willis, which quickly broke into the top 20 of Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart.
The 2020, YMCA was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. The following year, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The group continues to perform worldwide and is more popular now than ever.
The Molly Ringwalds are making a career out of the music of the 1980s. A New Orleans band loved in Baton Rouge, the group specializes in the songs of such ’80s acts as Duran Duran, Boy George and Culture Club, Flock of Seagulls, David Bowie and Adam Ant.
Band members also perform in costumes and makeup inspired by the era when Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna ruled radio and MTV launched stars.
It all started in late 1999 when singer, guitarist and synthesizer player Sir Devon Nooner and three other guys formed a band named after actress Molly Ringwald, star of the now classic John Hughes films “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink.” Guitarist and singer “Platinum” Randi Wilde joined the band about six months later.
The current Molly Ringwalds lineup, together for 11 years, also features singer and synthesizer player Dickie English, drummer Sir Liam Thunders and bassist Lord Philip Wang.
The choice to play ’80s songs was an easy one.
“We grew up with that music and we loved those bands,” Wilde said. “Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Def Leppard, things like that.”
The group played ’80s music in the early 2000s even though the music was out of fashion at the time.
“This wasn’t the cool thing to do,” Wilde recalled. “It was musical suicide to play ‘Girls on Film’ when everybody was listening to grunge rock. But we wanted to be different and we wanted to believe in what we were doing.”
Echoing the preponderance of British acts during the 1980s, three members of the Molly Ringwalds moved to the United States from Sheffield, England.
“Our families came over for jobs and whatnot and we ended up playing music together,” Wilde said.
Early on the Molly Ringwalds played in mostly empty venues.
“We had an audience of just a few blokes in New Orleans,” Wilde remembered. “Lafayette was even worse. Nobody. We’d do our makeup and the hair for two people in the venue. We had a hard time taking ourselves seriously at that point.”
But things began turning around, albeit not in the band’s hometown.
“In those early years, we weren’t really hitting in New Orleans,” Wilde said. “But then we got up to Baton Rouge and it started to take off. To be honest, we owe everything that we have to Baton Rouge. If it wasn’t for Baton Rouge’s belief in us, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
For more information call Steve Arrison, 501-321-2027.