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Mardi Gras mystique

Mardi Gras mystique
River City will experience a bit of Bayou with family-friendly festivities, parades and more
By Catherine Godbey

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Daily photo by Jeronimo Nisa

On Ferry Street Northeast, a tri-colored flag hangs. Across the street, beads and fabric adorn a balcony.

And around the corner on the front door of the Carnegie Visual Arts Center, a wreath adorned in purple, green and gold announces the news — Mardi Gras is coming to Decatur.

“We’re bringing a bit of the Bayou to Decatur,” said Kim Mitchell, director of the arts center and organizer of the first Carnegie Carnival.

“A bit of the Bayou” means a mixture of parades, costumes, floats, beads, moon pies, zydeco music and king cakes for a celebration best described as Halloween for adults.

Don’t worry, Mitchell said, the festivities will be family-friendly.

“No alcohol is allowed on the streets. It will only be available at the Bank Street Green,” she said. “The teams have to purchase their beads through us so there will be no provocative beads.”

Organizers expect the two-day carnival to impact the city financially and culturally, from raising funds for the Carnegie and other nonprofits to bringing in business to downtown restaurants.

“We want to have fun, promote art and creativity and boost retail sales. We hope this is good for everyone,” Mitchell said.

The event will kick off Feb. 17 with a private party for the crewes. In non-Mardi Gras speak, the crewes are the teams who build the floats and participate in the parades.

On Feb. 18, the public events will begin, including three parades and a red beans and rice cook-off.

The Animal Friends Humane Society and Parents and Children Together have partnered with the Carnegie to organize the Carnival Canines on Parade and Prince and Princess Parade.

PACT Director Susan Roberts invited several youth and children’s groups to march in the Prince and Princess Parade. Registration cost is $25 and will support the prevention of child abuse.

For the Canines on Parade, owners can dress their pets in creative, festive costumes. Registration cost is $10 for the first dog and $5 for each additional dog walked by the same owner.

“Mardi Gras is a community celebration that everybody can enjoy,” said Amy Rakestraw, an active participant in the Gulfport, Miss., Mardi Gras celebration. “It’s fun because the banker is standing next to the sales person is standing next to the cook from the neighborhood cafe is standing next to the car dealer is standing next to the school teacher. Mardi Gras is for everyone.”

Rakestraw helped form the 12-member Crewe of Chaos. The crewe will ride in the Carnegie Carnival Parade.

“Our float is going to be gaudy and tacky and sparkly and sequiny, just like all things Mardi Gras,” Rakestraw said.

Currently 10 crewes have registered for the parade, and Mitchell hopes more will sign up by the Tuesday deadline. The crewes will build floats and give away beads, moon pies, jester clappers, flying disks and doubloons to parade watchers.

Participating crewes range from groups of friends to businesses to churches. St. John’s Episcopal Church crewe is creating the pearly gates of heaven. The 16-foot-long float will feature the gates, clouds and members in choir robes playing kazoos.

“There are going to be motorcyclists leading the way for the float. We are calling them the Heaven’s Angels, instead of the Hell’s Angels,” said Tony Shubert.

The church also organized a cook-off team. The all-day red-beans-and-rice contest will be at the Bank Street Green.

“We’ve tried to have things lined up throughout the entire day so families can make it an all-day event. This really is a celebration of our community and the downtown area,” Mitchell said.