The Mardi Gras Columbia festival is Saturday, Feb. 10, and it’s the perfect excuse to let loose in New Orleans-style revelry, with a few 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. … And then you have Lent,” organizer Tom Hall said last year. “You have to have one big celebration to appreciate your moderation.”
Krewe de Columbi-Ya-Ya hosts the festival, which includes a 5K race, a parade and live music at City Roots Farm. And, for the third year, the festival is free.
You’ll need cash for food and drinks, though. And don’t even think about bringing your own cooler.
“We’ll confiscate them and consume their contents,” the website states. “(So if you do bring a cooler, please pack good stuff – thanks!)”
Even though some organizers may spend the day drinking confiscated booze, the festival is more than a drunken party. Each year, Mardi Gras Columbia proceeds go to charity. This year’s event will benefit Heroes in Blue, which promotes community and police relations and supports families of fallen officers.
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 (aka, “faithfully uphold the party spirit throughout the year,” according to the Mardi Gras Columbia website).
The Krewe de Columbi-Ya-Ya is the club that founded the Mardi Gras Columbia festival. It has about 100 members – and there’s a waiting list to join.
Traditionally, each krewe hosts its own parade and invites other krewes to join. Since Columbia’s Mardi Gras celebration is relatively young – this is only the festival’s eighth year – there are a few krewes but only one parade. But New Orleans, where Mardi Gras evolved into the party it is today, has more than 70 parades, scheduled from early January through Fat Tuesday.
Want to start a krewe? It’s pretty easy – the festival website says the rules are designed to “make it simple for anyone to put one together, even if you’re drunk.” Basically, if you gather 10 friends, name your krewe, participate in Mardi Gras Columbia, donate some proceeds to “a worthy local cause,” and talk to other krewes, you’re in.
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 8 a.m. and the race starts at 9 a.m. It’s $30 to register, and an additional $5 for your dog. Proceeds from dog fees go to Midlands Animal Mission.
Also, costumes are “de rigeuer” – that is, if you care about etiquette, mandatory.
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 if you want to participate, just dress up and show up with beads to throw. It’s free.
Former S.C. Rep. Bakari Sellers will serve as grand marshal.
The king and queen
All hail Queen Kassy Alia and King Bentz Kirby.
The Krewe de Columbi-Ya-Ya has captains who select the king and queen each year.
Alia founded Heroes in Blue, Mardi Gras Columbia’s charity beneficiary this year, after her husband Greg, a Forest Acres police officer, was killed in the line of duty in 2015.
Kirby, a retired attorney and musician, survived a sudden cardiac arrest in 2012.
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.
Sip beers from Louisiana-based Abita Brewing and River Rat Brewery, and munch on fare from a handful of food trucks.
The festival ends at sundown, but organizers encourage revelers to “party on at locally owned places.”
If you go
Mardi Gras Columbia
WHEN: Noon to sundown Saturday, Feb. 10.
▪ Lagniappe 5K begins at 9 a.m.
▪ Parade begins at 11 a.m.
▪ Music starts at noon.
WHERE: City Roots Farm, 1005 Airport Blvd.
COST: Free admission. Bring cash for food and drinks.
WORTH NOTING: No coolers. Costumes strongly encouraged. Friendly dogs welcome.
Those Lavender Whales
The Black Iron Gathering
Big Sky Revival
Soda City Brass Band
Tom Hall and the Plowboys
George Fetner and the Strays
Flat Out Strangers
Pharaohs in Space
The Devils in Disguise
Whiskey Tango Revue
The Boomtown Waifs
Captain Midnight Band