Last year, YaJagoff Media co-founders John Chamberlin and Rachael Rennebeck found themselves having trouble getting into the holiday spirit.
They always had enjoyed ushering in the season by attending the annual WPXI-TV Holiday Parade, but that wasn’t an option after Channel 11 announced in September 2021 that “at this time we cannot continue to produce and broadcast the parade.” With the COVID-19 pandemic still a major factor and without a parade to help get them in a festive mood, Chamberlin and Rennebeck decided to spread some holiday cheer themselves.
The first YaJagoff Fake Holiday Parade was held virtually last year and involved the duo driving around a parking lot and stopping at various predetermined stations to interview local celebrities, introduce a few live performers and generally help brighten Pittsburghers’ days.
It was so successful (and life-affirming for its hosts) that the two are back this year with an in-person event they’re calling “The Not Your Average Holiday Parade N’at, YaJagoff!” From 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 3, Chamberlin and Rennebeck will be transforming part of the parking lot at Ross’ The Block Northway mall into a holiday wonderland featuring a cavalcade of local entertainers, stationary floats and, most importantly, Santa.
“Ours certainly doesn’t hold the weight that Channel 11’s did, but it holds the tradition,” Rennebeck told the Union Progress. “We want to be able to see some live performances, hear from Pittsburgh personalities and celebrate the holiday season, because that’s what we always did.”
She and Chamberlin are always up to something. Their podcast and Q92.9-FM radio show are still going strong, and they’ve started to expand their brand into everything from their own coffee that they recently launched in partnership with Mercer County’s O’Neill Coffee Roasters to an annual parking chair ornament, the 2022 version of which is a wrought-iron seat that was made in memory of Chamberlin’s late father.
These two never half-ass anything, and that dedication to their wacky ideas extends to their upcoming holiday parade. The plan is for them to spend the morning in the back of a Rohrich Automotive pickup serving as the event’s narrators while Q92.9 hosts Erika Jay and Monica interview folks strategically placed around the parade route under four tents sponsored by local businesses Screenmobile, Mancini’s Bakery, Millie’s Homemade and North Country Brewing Co.
Live music will be provided by Steel City Ukuleles, Mark Ferrari and Ashley Marina; KDKA-TV meteorologist Ray Petelin will be on hand for a lively conversation; and John “Santa John” Suhr will be available for meet-and-greets once the parade route is complete. Because this is a YaJagoff event, expect plenty of other shenanigans and surprises, as well.
Anyone who can’t make it on Dec. 3 can livestream the parade via both YaJagoff’s and Q92.9’s Facebook pages. Those who do show up in person will be able to hang out along the parade’s perimeter and move between stations during performances.
“There’s no need to line your blanket along the curb,” Chamberlin said. “The parade doesn’t move. We move.”
Chamberlin said that the goal was to hold 2021’s Fake Holiday Parade in person, but COVID-19 made them pivot to just doing it online. YaJagoff’s second attempt at a holiday parade is really them “going back to what we had anticipated the first time,” Chamberlin said.
If all goes well, YaJagoff will make this an annual tradition that only keeps growing in scale. Rennebeck said that having folks on site this year “is such a big deal” in terms of turning their holiday spectacular into a yearly event that can at least partially match the excitement and splendor of WPXI’s now-defunct parade.
What’s really bolstering their resolve heading into next weekend is how little effort it took to persuade most of the talent and businesses involved in this year’s parade to participate. YaJagoff “shot this from the hip” last year, as Chamberlin put it, but the 2022 parade is much more organized and proved to be a much easier sell this time around.
“It’s not just our friends doing this,” Chamberlin said. “You have these integral people to the area buying into the silliness of it all. That’s the exciting part to me.”
For Rennebeck, getting folks such as Petelin and Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents founder Sue Kerr to engage with them on something like this is proof positive of how yinzers will always stick together — especially when the goal is making the holidays more fun for everyone.
“The fact these people are so receptive to doing something, that’s just what Pittsburgh embodies,” she said. “It’s contagious.”