The first parade of this year’s Fiesta celebration started with a bang as thousands of spectators flocked to the River Walk on Monday night to watch brightly lit barges float down the San Antonio River.

The Texas Cavaliers River Parade was the only major parade that happened in 2021 because of the pandemic. This year, for its 77th annual run, the parade’s theme was “Texas Alfresco.” Live announcers from the Arneson River Theatre also made their return.

King Antonio XCIX, Barton Tinsley Simpson, made his entrance at the theater in dramatic fashion. There were fireworks, confetti and several screams from the crowd as he disembarked from his barge and made his way through the crowds, high-fiving everyone along the way.

Simpson hyped the crowd with his opening remarks, yelling, “Viva Fiesta” multiple times, which spectators enthusiastically repeated.

Before becoming King Antonio, Simpson served as the river parade marshal in 2017 and is former commander of the organization. Currently, Simpson is a board member of the Texas Cavaliers, trustee of the Cavaliers’ Charitable Foundation and treasurer of the Warm Springs Foundation. 

Following Simpson’s appearance, country singer Randy Rogers, who was selected as grand marshal for the parade, briefly serenaded the crowd gathered around the theater.

The more than 50 barges that took part in the parade were colorful, vibrant and lit up the river.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council members were among the parade participants, as well as the San Antonio Zulu Association and the German Club. Bumper boats also debuted at this year’s parade, to the delight of the crowd.

Sofia Licega, a fifth grader at Bob Lewis Elementary, got to ride on a float in the parade as winner of the Margaret Castillas Grand Prize Artist Award. Licega’s artwork won this year’s children’s art contest, and as a result, her art was featured on the cover of the parade’s program. 

Among the spectators at the parade was Britt Kleberg, the sister of King Antonio XCIX.

“I’ve never seen anything more exciting, effervescent and infectious,” said Kleberg. “Everyone was so ready.” 

After shutdowns that happened during peaks of the pandemic, Kleberg said Monday night’s event showed San Antonio’s spirit. 

“We have to be together. It really is such a wonderful feeling,” she said. 

Kleberg, 53, said she has attended every parade since she was 7 years old. Her favorite part, she said, is the coming together of people from different backgrounds to celebrate.

Thousands of families and groups gathered in reserved seating with prices ranging from $18 to $28 to watch the parade. 

The Cavaliers had aimed to sell 17,000 tickets in advance. As part of their greater mission, the parade helps the organization raise money for childrens’ charities and organizations in San Antonio. 

Two more Fiesta parades are scheduled to make their grand returns on a new route this weekend. The Battle of Flowers Parade takes to the streets Friday and the Flambeau Parade lights up the night Saturday after a pause in 2020 and smaller celebrations in 2021. 

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Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.