Mardi Gras From Coast to Coast
From our nation’s capital to one of South Carolina’s funkiest beach towns, Carnival spreads across the country.
With Fat Tuesday quickly approaching, talk of Mardi Gras and the planning of block parties, galas, masquerade balls and parades is buzzing all over Louisiana. Though Mardi Gras is rooted in South Louisiana (and also Mobile, Alabama), the celebration has mamboed far from its home state.
In Nevada City, California, Valentine’s Day weekend will be celebrated in Mardi Gras fashion this year, complete with a masquerade ball, downtown parade and finished off with Carnevale. The Masquerade Ball takes place on Valentine’s Day, with Cajun music playing through the night. Following the Sunday parade —dubbed the “biggest outside the South” — celebrations continue with a street fair featuring New Orleans-style food from gumbo to beignets, a full bar and more Cajun music.
Across the country, on Tybee Island, Georgia, Mardi Gras has been celebrated for the past six years. Also taking place on Valentine’s Day weekend, Mardi Gras Tybee includes a parade, costume contest and street party. Beach goers can grab their chairs (and beads) and find a spot along Butler Avenue to watch as Tybee’s Mardi Gras Parade rolls from Memorial Park to Tybrisa Street with colorful floats, plenty of beads and marching bands. After the parade, a costume contest at the Tybrisa Roundabout will crown the 2015 Mardi Gras Tybee King and Queen, who will then host the street dance to the tunes of zydeco music.
Our nation’s capital holds a celebration of its own that draws plenty of revelers from the South. The Mystick Krewe of Louisianans has put on a grand themed ball in Washington, D.C., for more than 60 years. In February of 1944, Louisianans homesick for their annual tradition flocked to the Statler Hotel masked in carnival style, and the ball continued in 1946 at Wardman Park Hotel. Sen. Russell Long created the krewe in 1957 to keep things going, and Richard Nixon escorted the queen that year. These days, the ball is held at the Hilton Hotel and most of the guests travel from Louisiana to attend. This year’s theme was “the land of coastal riches” and featured a poster by artist Tony Bernard of Lafayette, while the January 24 ball featured businessman Charles T. Goodson as King and college student Amelia Grace Zepernick as Queen.
Another coastal Mardi Gras celebration held outside of Louisiana that keeps growing each year is FollyGras in Folly Beach, South Carolina. Building up for the past eight years, this year’s FollyGras will be the largest and longest celebration yet. Festivities are planned from February 16-21 and range from an oyster roast to a block party, two-day cochon de lait, masquerade ball at the Tides Hotel, street party and parade.
“We’re hoping people will come out to the island and stay for a week in the off season,” says Ben Bounds of Follywood Productions. He says Mardi Gras has taken off in such a large way in Folly Beach because locals have created their own festivities based around the same principles and concepts of Mardi Gras. “It’s easy for a small community like ours to buy into something like that,” he says.
During the street party, Center Street is blocked off so that restaurants, retail, vendors and musical stages can spill out into the crowd. Folly’s eight-block long parade encourages costumes and beads, with “floats” running the gamut from elaborate creations to school buses, trucks pulling boats, golf carts and even skateboards.
Though FollyGras has its roots in Louisiana celebrations, “Folly Beach has its own quirkiness,” says Bounds. “We’ve been able to take our own weirdness and combine it with the funkiness of Mardi Gras.”
Photo credits, from top: FollyGras parade courtesy of FollyGras 2014, 2015 Washington Mardi Gras poster and Tybee Mardi Gras revelers courtesy of Mardi Gras Tybee.