Shortly before 8 p.m. Friday, the electric MoonPie’s eyrie atop the RSA BankTrust building wasn’t even visible, obscured by darkness and fog.
On Royal Street down below, tufts of mist scudded past the streetlamps. But still people gathered. The rituals would be observed.
In the Riverview Plaza courtyard, Fred Richardson materialized, resplendent in a black jacket covered in a red floral pattern. As a city councilman, he’d been the earliest and staunchest proponent of a MoonPie drop on New Year’s Eve. Now that he was retired from that post and not representing the city, he said, he felt like he could cut loose a little more with his fashion choices.
Richardson, now honorary chairman of MoonPie Over Mobile, said he was glad that the threat of rain appeared to have dissipated. Unseasonable warmth and a little foggy haze and a breeze were nothing. “I don’t think we’ve had a perfect night yet,” he said. “I’ll take this over freezing cold and wind.”
The Jukebox Brass Band emerged from the hotel and began playing with a vigor that drew a crowd, pulled it in tight and got it moving. It might have been a little smaller than in years past, but it was no less energetic. With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on the rise, local health officials had urged caution about attending gatherings, even outdoor ones such as this. Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and City Council President C.J. Small had advised people to participate as safely as they could. Masks were commonplace in the crowd, though by no means universal. (That would not be the case later in the evening, as mask wearers became a distinct minority.)
Men entrusted with the night’s most stressful job — rolling a giant MoonPie across the Riverview Plaza courtyard, through a crowd, and lifting the pastry onto a table without destroying it in front of live TV cameras — carried out their duty. Richardson and Small made the ceremonial first cut, and people lined up for a piece of the pie.
From there, a second line parade led the crowd to the main stage just off Bienville Square, where Carol Hunter of the Downtown Mobile Alliance, a principal organizer of the event, welcomed them. “We couldn’t get together last year and it is so good to see everybody coming together and ringing in the new year,” she said.
She teed it up; Small kicked it off. “2021 thought it had us down,” he said. “But look at us tonight!”
After a few more remarks from Small and Richardson, the band Mobzilla got down to business with a cover of “Grits Ain’t Groceries.” As the band played over the next hour and a half, the crowd steadily built in the street in front of the stage, in Bienville Square behind it, and for blocks to the west in Dauphin Street.
By the time Trombone Shorty took the stage for an energetic set starting at 11, it was clear the MoonPie drop was going to have an audience to rival pre-COVID years, though it probably didn’t match the biggest crowds of the past.
What wasn’t clear, however, was the air over the Mobile River. After the MoonPie had dropped, after the crowd had counted down the last of 2021 and cheered the first of 2022, the action shifted to the waterfront, where the main fireworks show was launched. It sounded great, though from a just a few hundred yards away, atop a parking deck overlooking Water Street, it was barely visible.
Some shells produced bursts that could be seen through the haze; others simply tinted it with flashes of color.
But fireworks shows seen through cotton wool are another fine old New Year’s tradition in the Port City, and the celebration greeting 2022 was a far cry from the silence at the dawn of 2021.
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