The Mardi Gras Columbia Parade & Music Festival is Saturday, Feb. 25, and it’s the perfect excuse to let loose in New Orleans-style revelry, with a few forgiving buffer days before Ash Wednesday.
“Mardi Gras is about having a wonderful, joyous day where you go to excess, dance, drink and smile a lot more. You just blow it out with your friends and your community. And then you have Lent,” said Tom Hall, one of the festival organizers. “You have to have one big celebration to appreciate your moderation.”
Mardi Gras Columbia, in its seventh year, includes a 5K race, a parade and live music at City Roots Farm. For the second year, the festival is free. Yes, that technically means you’ll have more money for drinks, but Mardi Gras is much more than a drunken party.
“It’s totally about community and giving,” Hall said. Each year, Mardi Gras Columbia proceeds go to charity. This year’s event will benefit Congaree Riverkeeper.
Go Columbia has what you need to know about the event to laissez les bons temps rouler (Mardi Gras-speak for “let the good times roll”).
Krewes are groups associated with Mardi Gras that organize parades, raise money for charity and host balls and events year-round.
The Krewe de Columbi-Ya-Ya is the club that founded the Mardi Gras Columbia festival. It has about 100 members.
Other Columbia krewes are the Krewe de Los Lunaticos, Fork and Spoon Krewe, Jasper Arts Krewe and new this year is the Krewe de Vieux du Bois. Traditionally, each krewe hosts its own parade and invites other krewes to join.
“We want to have as many krewes as we can have,” Hall said. “We’d encourage another krewe to have a parade. Hopefully next year, we’ll roll down Main Street on Fat Tuesday and have two parades. Then people will see how this can grow.”
The Lagniappe 5K
“Lagniappe” is Louisiana French for a bonus or extra gift. The bonus of this race is that your dog can run with you! Another bonus is runners get a River Rat beer at the finish line.
The run will begin by the soccer fields near Jim Hamilton-L.B.Owens Airport and follow a relatively flat course through Rosewood.
Registration and packet pickup is at 7 a.m. and the race starts at 8 a.m. It’s $30 to register, and an additional $5 for your dog. Proceeds from dog fees go to Midlands Animal Mission.
The parade will roll out at 11 a.m. from City Roots Farm and travel through Rosewood and past Publix. There will be krewes on floats, local marching bands and anyone in costume who wants to participate. Just bring beads to throw.
The king and queen
All hail King Kristian Niemi, owner of Bourbon Columbia, and Queen Mia McLeod, a state senator.
The Krewe de Columbi-Ya-Ya has captains who select the king and queen each year.
“We thought Mia’s Viagra bill was really awesome,” Hall said, referring to the bill McLeod sponsored that would restrict access to medicines that treat erectile dysfunction – a tongue-in-cheek criticism of efforts by the Legislature’s GOP majority to restrict women’s access to abortion. “She was an all-around good choice,” he added.
Niemi was selected for his contributions to the food scene in Columbia as well as his consistent support of various causes, Hall said. “Whenever we do a charitable event for Columbia, Kristian brings the food.”
The chicken throwing
Cajun Mardi Gras, celebrated in the small towns around New Orleans, is less about catching beads and more about catching chickens. In this Mardi Gras tradition, participants go house to house begging for ingredients to make a huge gumbo – anything from a potato to a chicken. Hosts might then get up on the roof and throw said chicken down into the crowd for participants to catch.
Thus, Columbia’s Mardi Gras kicks off with a chicken being flung from the City Roots roof.
Columbia’s event has an additional chicken connection. The very first festival in 2011 was a fundraiser for Wil-Moore Farms, whose chickens were killed when the farm’s barn burned down.
“It’s a fun way to tie our event to the real event and symbolizes the beginning of our organization,” Hall said.
This year’s festival has more bands than ever. More than 20 bands will play from noon till 6 p.m. on multiple stages. The lineup includes local and regional acts ranging from Americana to punk rock. There also will be a special recognition of blues legend Drink Small, who will be performing at 2 p.m. on the Riverkeeper Stage.
Sip beers from Louisiana-based Abita Brewing and River Rat Brewery, and munch on fare from a handful of food trucks like Charleston Lowcountry Kitchen and The BBQ Bus. Bring cash for both.
The Mardi Gras tree
Keep an eye out for the Mardi Gras tree somewhere along Rosewood Drive. The location is secret for now, but it won’t be hard to spot once the Ya-Ya krewe plies it with thousands of colorful beads.
If you go
Mardi Gras Columbia Parade & Music Festival
WHEN: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25. Lagniappe 5K begins at 8 a.m.; parade begins at 11 a.m.; music starts at noon.
WHERE: City Roots Farm, 1005 Airport Blvd.
Noon-12:45 p.m.: Capital City Playboys
1-1:45 p.m.: Reverend Mickens Electric Gospel Band
2-2:45 p.m.: Drink Small
3-3:45 p.m.: Dexter Romweber
4-4:45 p.m.: Melon Funky
5-6 p.m.: Eight Track Parade
Noon-12:45 p.m.: Big Sky Country
1-1:45 p.m.: Flat Out Strangers
2-2:45 p.m.: Tom Hall and the Plowboys
3-3:45 p.m.: The Mustache Brothers
4-4:45 p.m.: Hard Tack
5-6 p.m.: Captain Midnight
Krewe de Columbia Ya-Ya Stage
Noon-12:30 p.m.: Pharaohs in Space
12:45-1:15 p.m.: Soda City Riot
1:30-2:15: Danielle Howle
2:30-3 p.m.: Dirty Gone Dolas
3:15-4 p.m.: Devils in Disguise
4:15-5 p.m.: Black Iron Gathering
11-11:45 a.m.: Preach Jacobs
Noon-12:30 p.m.: S.T.A.T.
12:45-1:15 p.m.: Space Coke
1:30-2:15 p.m.: Boo Hag
2:30-3 p.m.: Scenario Collective
3:15-4 p.m.: Alarm Drum
Freeway Music Stage
Noon- 5p.m.: Freeway Music School rock bands