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Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009 09:58 pm

Downtown celebrates Mardi Gras

Preparations for the 2008 Springfield Second Line Downtown Sidewalk Parade.

For those of you who were wondering, the French words Mardi Gras actually translate into “Fat Tuesday,” a reference to the day before Ash Wednesday which signifies the beginning of Lent, a period of fasting and preparation for those of the Christian faith in anticipation of the Easter holiday.

If I was a betting man I’d wager the majority of partakers in Mardi Gras aren’t lining up on Wednesday to receive the gift of ashes upon their forehead, then double my money that a good bunch of the revelers don’t even know why Mardi Gras exists. But who the heck cares anyway? It’s still a bash to beat all bashes, the mother of all parties, the be-all and end-all of shindigs, and a festivity of the highest order.

New Orleans is the most famous home of Mardi Gras in America with St. Louis, showing off its French roots in the Soulard district with a big party and parade, coming in a distant second. In other parts of the world, especially South America and specifically Brazil, the huge celebration is known as Carnival. Springfield now has its very own Mardi Gras. It’s small compared to the big cities, but quite mighty considering its age.

“Frank Parker and I started the family parade about seven years ago,” said Kate Hawkes, proprietor of the Trout Lily Café, located in the heart of downtown on Sixth Street. “Then with help we got the adult part going three years ago.”

The organizing group, called Springfield Mardi Gras, formed a not-for-profit corporation to help defray the costs of the privately funded celebration This year there are actually three nights to party associated with the event. Last Saturday the first deal got under way at J.W.’s Lounge featuring the standard Mardi Gras fair of music and food.

Next up is Lundi Gras (Lundi means Monday) on Monday, Feb. 22, at the Brewhaus from 7 to 10 p.m. The ticketed party ($15 in advance, $20 at the door) is a fun-filled fundraiser to help support the whole Mardi Gras and includes live music by Frank Parker with the Jambalaya Jam Band, a New Orleans-style food buffet, a costume party and contest with judged winners and prizes donated by downtown merchants, and the coronation of the King of Mardi Gras.

“Our judges aren’t local celebrities, but they sure are characters,” said Hawkes. “Our first year the mayor was king, last year it was Bob Egizi, but this year, we’re not sure yet who it’s going to be.”

On the big day, Fat Tuesday, the festivities begin around 5:30 p.m. at the Trout Lily with a parade for all ages starting at 6 p.m. Families are encouraged to attend, with beads and masks for all as long as supplies last. Then the spectacle, led by the Jambalaya Jam Band, and unofficially called the Springfield Second Line Downtown Sidewalk Parade, snakes its way through downtown making merry.

“Basically we march around hooting and hollering and having lots of fun, “said Hawkes. “Don’t forget to bring hankies and umbrellas. It’s tradition to wave them during the parade.”

Then at 7 p.m. adults of legal drinking age are invited to gather at Robbie’s on the south side of the Old Capitol Plaza to begin the Pub Crawl portion of Springfield Mardi Gras. The adult parade intends to meander around downtown with stops at participating bars, including Celtic Mist Pub, JP Kelly’s, Marly’s Pub and the Alamo, with more to be added by next Tuesday. The partying procession winds up at the Brewhaus, safe and sound, if perhaps, a bit sloppy and silly.

Then the night ends and when Wednesday begins, the revelers have hopefully accomplished the desired goal of preparing well for the trying days ahead.

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