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Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007 05:57 am

A cure for winter blues

Springfield’s Mardi Gras celebration will be bigger, better than before

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Untitled Document This winter is really getting old. I’m tired of it, in spite of the fact that I like cool weather. My weather complaints are usually focused on muggy heat rather than winter chill, but the two ice storms this winter have resulted almost a week’s worth of power outages and major damage to our house and trees. Spring can’t come too soon, as far as I’m concerned — as long as there’s not another tornado like last March’s. Unfortunately, there’s still more winter ahead. Fortunately, a tiny group of local citizens is helping us get through the next few weeks. In 2004, Kate Hawkes, owner of the Trout Lily Café, and Frank Parker, an outstanding local trumpet player, joined forces to produce a Mardi Gras sidewalk parade in downtown Springfield. Downtown merchants participated with sales and passed out the traditional beads. Everyone had a wonderful time and considered it a great success. For the next two years, both Hawkes and Parker had out-of-town commitments. The parade went on, though it was smaller. This year, however, Hawkes and Parker are back in full force. Recruiting John Sluzalis, the drummer in Frank’s band, and Tony Leone, owner of the Pasfield House, to their committee, they’ve put together a three-day Mardi Gras celebration, Feb. 18-20, with something for everyone, and it’s sure to put paid to those winter blues. Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday” in French, is the day before the start of Lent in the Christian calendar. Many of the countries and regions celebrate the days leading up to Ash Wednesday with parties, parades, and copious food and drink. In Brazil — especially Rio de Janeiro — it’s known as Carnivale; in Austria it’s called Fasching. No celebration, however, is more fun, more riotous, more special — or more delicious —than the one that takes place in New Orleans. Though Mardi Gras specifically means the day immediately before Ash Wednesday, it’s grown into a tradition involving celebrations that start in the days (or weeks) before the actual Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana Cajun country, and other areas around the Gulf, such as Biloxi, Miss. Springfield’s own Mardi Gras committee wants to bring that tradition here, along with some of New Orleans’ best food. The celebrations start with a Sunday Jazz Brunch at the Pasfield House. From 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Johnny Slu and Two Few will serenade diners feasting on the creations of Michael Taylor of the late Bayou Grill and August Mrozowski of Augie’s Front Burner. The final menu is still under discussion, but it will include such classics as red beans and rice, crawfish étouffée, chicken Creole, and jambalaya. The next day, the festivities continue with a Lundi Gras Ball (lundi is French for “Monday”). Frank Parker’s AllStar Jambalaya Jam Band will play from 6-10 p.m. New Orleans specialties prepared by Taylor and Michael Higgins of Maldaner’s will be served from 6-8 p.m. Costumes are encouraged, and a prize will be awarded for the best by a panel of “local celebrities.” The king of Mardi Gras will be crowned, too. On Fat Tuesday, the revelry begins at the Trout Lily Café with face-painting for children from 5-6:30 p.m. A family-oriented parade from 6:30-7:30 p.m., led by Frankie and Johnny’s New Orleans Brass Band, will wind through the streets of downtown. Costumes are again encouraged. At 7:30, revelers will reconvene at the Trout Lily Café for the Second Line Downtown Pub Crawl. Frankie and Johnny’s band will again lead the parade around, and inside downtown watering holes, with the participants drinking, gathering beads, and eating as they go. The Mardi Gras Committee hopes that this is just the beginning. If things go well this year, the Springfield Mardi Gras will become an annual event with more sponsors and perhaps even a small budget for promotion and planning. The members of the committee are working hard to make it happen, committed to helping those of us who are struggling to get through these last weeks of winter.
Capacity at both the Sunday Jazz Brunch and the Lundi Gras Ball is limited. The Sunday Jazz Brunch, on Feb. 18, costs $30 per person. Reservations must be made in advance. Tickets for the Lundi Gras Ball, on Feb. 19, are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. All events on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 20, are free. Tickets for all events are available at the Trout Lily Café, 218 S. Sixth St.; The Cardologist, 225 S. Sixth St.; or Augie’s Front Burner, 2 W. Old State Capitol Plaza. For more information, call Kate Hawkes, 217-391-0101; Frank Parker, 217-529-0415; John Sluzalis, 217-341-6437; or Tony Leone, 217-525-3663. 
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