The percussive noise crackling through the air Saturday afternoon in the Rosewood area won’t be that of a Civil War reenactment drill. It will be drummers from Benedict College’s marching band.
The rallying cries from people marching along Rosewood Drive dressed in vibrant and quirky costumes won’t be that of a rowdy uprising on the way to occupy something. It’s just a parade. And what sounds like keys skidding across a countertop will just be plastic beads bouncing off the pavement after passing through outstretched hands.
Welcome to Mardi Gras Columbia, a spin on the New Orleans Mardi Gras experience. Here the inhibited will be pitied.
“We have this energy bubbling. We are outrageous,” said Cindi Boiter, one of the kaptains for Krewe de Columbi-Ya-Ya, the Mardi Gras hosts. “We have the confidence to not care what people think.”
“Rain or shine, we roll,” added Tom Hall, another Ya-Ya kaptain. “It just weeds out the weak. We embrace the bad weather.”
What the Ya-Ya krewe really embraces is connectivity within the city.
After the parade, bands will perform on two stages while festivalgoers eat, drink and mingle. The Mardi Gras event, which starts at noon at City Roots Urban Farm, is a party that has the potential to rival anything on the city’s social calendar. It’s has the revelry of St. Pat’s in Five Points mixed with the music-first sensibility of the Free Times Music Crawl spiced with the eclecticism of First Thursday on Main, the monthly art crawl.
Call it a cultural gumbo.
“This is the best opportunity to bring all the different parts of Columbia together under one place,” Hall said. “We’re really trying to reach out, not just to people who like organic farms and go to 701 Market. We want everybody to roll.”
To roll is to ride on a float. Emile DeFelice and Debbie McDaniel, the king and queen, respectively, will sit on a multi-tiered cake pulled by a tractor. In the parade that starts at 3 p.m., some people will roll on their bikes, but most will roll in a more traditional way: on foot. Same goes for the dogs some of the paraders will have in tow.
The idea of Mardi Gras was conceived last year as a fundraiser for Wil-Moore Farms, the family-run Lugoff farm that suffered losses after a devastating fire. The celebration and parade was put together in three weeks, but $2,500 was raised. So was awareness for an event like Mardi Gras Columbia.
“It’s kind of mixing arts, agriculture and community,” said Eric McClam, an owner of City Roots, the urban farm near Owens Field Airport. “We’re engaging in our South Carolina agrarian heritage, but celebrating community and family-based fun. This neighborhood, it’s important.”
Doko Farm, a Blythewood facility, is the beneficiary this year.
“They are highly involved in all the slow food and all the heritage breeds and are promoting fair and clean food,” McClam said.
While Ya-Ya has been prepping for several months, krewe meetings have retained a chaotic gloss. Anyone who has worked with the assiduous Hall knows that thoughts and ideas explode in his head like fireworks. It might have rubbed off on krewe members, because at a recent Tuesday-night krewe at Cock n Bull, the Rosewood Drive pub, there seemed to be more toasting than planning. About the only thing completed was making Anna Redwine, a New Orleans native, a krewe kaptain. (The krewe’s rather chatty Facebook group is one of few of its kind that this reporter hasn’t rushed to remove himself from. Things get done there.)
“This has all been winging it,” said Redwine, whose family lives two blocks from the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade route. “It’s been really fun to be a part of an organization that’s not so uptight. At the same time, we have some organization. We have some by-laws. It’s not just a bunch of revelers.”
The next morning at City Roots, Kristian Niemi sat on a swing with his computer. Vanessa Driscoll, Joseph Fern, DeFelice and Hall sat at a table going through day-of particulars. A propeller plane — or was it a lawn mower? — buzzed nearby.
“Many of our meetings basically have to be repeated,” Niemi, who owns Rosso Trattoria Italia, offered.
Fern and McClam talked about what kind of tractor will pull the float — and when the float would be ready to be pulled from CMFA where it was being built. It was DeFelice, owner of Caw Caw Creek Farm, who got the idea of a dog walk after happening upon Paws for a Cause in Greenville. Proceeds from the walk, which costs $5 to register a dog, benefit The Animal Mission.
“It is amazing to see 1,000 dogs marching,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. They had every type of dog. It was really, really cool because people love dogs. And somehow when 1,000 dogs get together, they all behaved. There wasn’t a peep out of any of them.”
Jim “Soni” Sonefeld of Hootie and The Blowfish is the parade’s grand marshal. (Mayor Steve Benjamin initially agreed to serve in that role, but will be out of town.) Krewe de Columbi-Ya-Ya is the largest krewe, but others such as Fork & Spoon Records and Alternacirque now have krewes.
“People are forming them on their own and they’ll be here to march in the parade,” Driscoll said. “This takes place in a community and it’s to draw the community together.”
Hall wants the curious who have beads slung in their direction to join, too. Boiter, the editor of Jasper Magazine, said Ya-Ya, and Mardi Gras overall, has attracted people from various backgrounds and professions. She said the event is about Columbia declaring not to be ordinary.
“In so many ways, this is about community building and what’s happening in the city, particularly the arts community,” she added.
To be clear, the parade isn’t the kind one might see on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
“It’s a family event,” Hall said. “There’s no flashing or anything. It’s not that kind of Mardi Gras event.”
“I’ve had Mardi Gras when its 35 degrees and we’re still out there,” said McClam, who graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans. “It doesn’t matter.”
If you hear window-rattling thunder Saturday afternoon, it’s not the beginning of a storm. It’s just part of the krewe.