The monotony of a gray February afternoon was broken Saturday by the brilliant spectacle of Mardi Gras revelers parading down Rosewood Drive.
Dressed in purple and green and wearing beads, scores of people rode floats or walked along one of Columbia’s main thoroughfares, all in celebration of a New Orleans tradition that is now officially recognized with a big party in South Carolina’s capital city.
Columbia’s second annual Mardi Gras festival drew a small mob to the City Roots urban farm off Rosewood Drive near Owens Field Airport. The cornerstones of the festival were dozens of bands, gallons of cold beer and the gaudy parade that made an appearance on Rosewood Drive before winding its way through the neighborhoods and back to City Roots where it started.
“This is a super fun party that does good things for the community,” 34-year-od Katie Fox said, referring to the festival’s dual role of social occasion and charity event. “I can really relax at this. The best part is being surrounded by interesting, smart, caring people.”
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Chris Little, a 29-year-old architect, got in the spirit of Mardi Gras by wearing a purple pinstrip suit and cobalt blue top hat. Friends persuaded him to rent the oversized suit at Hipwazee, a Five Points clothing and costume store, to make a splash Saturday.
“I love this suit,” Little said, as one of his friends snapped pictures. “This is the first time I’ve worn it. But I might wear it Wednesday to a meeting. I get to keep it until then.”
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the raucous tradition of having one last party before the Christian season of Lent begins, which starts this week. New Orleans is widely known as the epicenter of Mardi Gras partying. The purple, green and gold colors associated with Mardi Gras represent justice, faith and power, according to the website Americancatholic.org.
Columbia’s festival was held on Saturday for an obvious reason: More people could attend. The local event resulted from an idea last year to raise money for a farmer whose barn had burned. It drew 300 to 500 people in 2011, but this year’s event appeared to exceed that number. Airport Boulevard at the end of Owens Field was blocked off and filled with people throughout the overcast day.
Beer trucks and food booths provided plenty of fuel for the crowd. Groups of dancers stomped in front of the bands.
Many people strolled around with their dogs. Festival organizers encouraged people to bring canines because part of the proceeds will go to a local animal mission. One of those with a dog was 36-year-old Trish Heidtke, whose dog Petey strained at the leash to mingle with the crowd.
Petey was so excited he kept Heidtke from walking in the parade, but she enjoyed watching from the sidelines. Heidtke, who arrived early Saturday afternoon, said she and Petey would stay for the festival’s duration late Saturday.
“Oh, we’re in,” Heidtke said with a smile. “The longer we stay, minute by minute, he gets more and more tired.”