(RNN) – For six years, Mobile has been letting the good times roll with a family-friendly New Year's celebration, capped by the dropping of a giant, lighted MoonPie.
The central attraction for MoonPie Over Mobile is a 12-foot, hefty electronic replica of the signature Mobile Mardi Gras treat. Made of plastic and LED lights, it will descend 317 feet in 60 seconds from the RSA Trustmark skyrise to mark the end of 2013.
"We love that people come from all over to celebrate New Year's Eve together," said Carol Hunter, president of Events Mobile Inc.
Organizers expect around 60,000 people to take part in the celebration, which includes children's activities, music, food, fireworks and a laser light show.
In addition to watching the MoonPie drop, the public can sample a bit of a giant, edible MoonPie cooked up by Chattanooga Bakery, the maker of the iconic pastry treat. People are encouraged to stop by Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza to get a piece of the pie.
To diversify the musical offerings, MoonPie over Mobile organizers selected country music star Gretchen Wilson, known for the hit single Redneck Woman, as the lead musical act.
"This is the first year for a big country star singing," Hunter said.
Also new this year is a laser light show to complement traditional New Year's Eve fireworks. The Lasertainment laser show, sponsored by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, is "a fabulous addition to the evening," she said.
The light show will be projected from an adjoining building, providing "a great angle to project images" on the building, she said, accompanied by an outside sound system.
"We invite the region and the nation from all over to experience the transformation happening in downtown Mobile," Hunter said.
For those who can't attend in person, 20 Raycom stations plan to cover the MoonPie drop live via telecasts and online.
Hunter said she hopes the weather will be harmonious for the celebration.
"Clear and cool is just perfect for this," she said.
Last year's New Year's party took place about a week after Christmas tornadoes, a rare but chilling holiday sight, caused damage in midtown Mobile.
Mobile's New Year's Eve celebration has its roots in a downtown street celebration, First Night Mobile, which started in the mid-90s and lasted for about a decade.
"It was kind of an introduction into what a family-friendly New Year's event could be," Hunter said. "We always felt like we do family-friendly events well. To do a New Year's Eve event this way is an extension of what we do all year long."
The first MoonPie Over Mobile descended on New Year's Eve in 2008, a brainchild of Mobile City Councilman Fred Richardson.
The event that made the MoonPie famous, Mobile's Mardi Gras, boasts a $227 million economic impact on the metropolitan area and, as the oldest carnival celebration in the New World, three centuries of history.
Masked float riders have been throwing MoonPies to Mobile Mardi Gras crowds since 1952. More than 4 million are thrown annually.
The carnival season runs about three weeks before the start of Lent, culminating with Mardi Gras day, or Fat Tuesday, which will be observed March 4. Fat Tuesday is largely celebrated as a holiday in the Mobile area, with local schools not in session.
Occurring 47 days before Easter, Fat Tuesday is a celebration that can occur as early as Feb. 3 and as late as March 9, according to Eugene Walter's The History of Carnival.
The oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the New World is intimately connected to the early history of Mobile.
In 1703, French pioneers celebrated Mardi Gras at Twenty-Seven Mile Bluff, the first settlement of Mobile, according to the Mobile Carnival Museum website. The celebration has been going strong ever since, with interruptions only in wartime - the Civil War, World War I and World War II.
Among the noteworthy people to take part in Mobile's Mardi Gras was baseball's home run king, Hank Aaron. According to the Mobile Carnival Museum, the area native was named the king for the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association in 1956.
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