It’s time to start pulling out the funky hats, the feather boas, the “special occasion” koozies and the boogie shoes — Mardi Gras has landed, which means one thing.
It’s party time.
This year, Southeast Texas Mardi Gras returns Thursday, March 3, through Sunday, March 6, and by the looks of the festival lineup, organizers are planning to make this year’s event one for the record books.
“We’re extremely excited; the weather forecast looks good, and it’s looking to be one of the largest events yet,” said Mardi Gras president Laura Childress. Since the inaugural festival in 1993, the Southeast Texas Mardi Gras has maintained a reputation for throwing a fun, safe Mardi Gras festival appropriate for the whole family, drawing crowds by the thousands to Procter Street Port Arthur. In fact, the February issue of the Port Arthur Business Journal reported that the Port Arthur population of about 58,000 jumps to 250,000 during the festival weekend alone.
“We’re kind of centrally located between Houston and Louisiana, and the people north of us don’t have too far to drive,” said Childress, adding that the location and the quality of the festival draws non-locals from as far as Shreveport, La.
As far as Golden Triangle natives who have moved off, “It doesn’t seem to matter how far people move — if they’re Mardi Gras people, they return to Port Arthur for the festival,” she said. “It’s a large reunion for many people. Lots of families come in and meet here — people from out of town, people from Louisiana, people whose hometown is nearby come home for Mardi Gras. The biggest thing is that we have all the traditional aspects of Mardi Gras — the parades, the concerts, the carnival, the costumes, all of that — and you put it together with that home-town element, and you’ve got something really special.”
The gates will open Thursday at 5 p.m., and the carnival rides will crank up as the first of eight parades will roll the good times down Procter Street. And a newly added option for festival-goers this year is the MegaPass, which can be purchased for $20 in lieu of ticket bundles, granting unlimited carnival rides for any one day at the carnival — definitely a wise investment for the ride enthusiast in the family.
Of course, those who forget to purchase their advance tickets at the discounted rate will still get plenty of bang for their buck. Mardi Gras weekend has a live entertainment line-up of 10 concerts, including crowd favorites Kevin Fowler and Wayne Toups and Zydecajun.
Guests are also advised to keep their eyes out for strolling artists meandering through Mardi Gras festivities, including Jerry the Monkey Man, Dallas the Fire Guy and newcomer Tim Decker, a performance artist who paints celebrity and patriotic paintings live to music in less than five minutes.
And of course, 120 vendors will be strewn over five blocks of Procter Street, not including token booths for alcohol purchases.
“There’s truly something for everyone. Concerts, food, arts and crafts, carnival rides and games, parades, pony rides, petting zoo — there are lots of family oriented activities,” said Childress. Mardi Gras alums have something they look forward to every year, and for Childress, who has 19 years of experience behind the scenes, the return of the Budweiser Clydesdales is what she’s looking forward to most.
“They’re larger than life,” she said, adding that booking the horses is not always a guaranteed thing depending on their busy schedule (they recently appeared in a commercial during the Superbowl.) The Budweiser Clydesdales will be on display in the float den and will also appear in four parades this year.
As far as what makes Southeast Texas Mardi Gras a family-friendly destination, Childress said that law enforcement is present throughout the festival grounds.
“Speaking from experience over the last 19 years, our Mardi Gras has always viewed safety as a high priority. I think most would agree by the amount of law enforcement present from area police that we have a no-tolerance policy regarding trouble. We are most interested in having a great time, and we want it to be for everyone,” she said.
Another pleasant perk to look forward to thanks to the March Mardi Gras dates this year is the weather, Childress added.
“I think the weather’s going to have a tremendous impact on this year’s festival — it affects any outdoor festival but especially with Mardi Gras, when in the past it’s been cold and wet. Any time you’ve got good spring weather like we’ve been having, and you’ve got 70-degree temperatures, the people love to be there. It’s much more enjoyable.”
More details about this year’s attractions, rates and sponsors can be found at www.mardigras.portarthur.com .
Those wanting to get in some bead catching action in the meantime are encouraged to make their way over to Orange for Mardi Gras on the Sabine’s Krewe of Krewes Parade on Saturday, Feb. 26, at 5 p.m.
Veterans of the Southeast Texas Mardi Gras festival know one thing’s for sure — you may lose track of time once you enter the gates, but when authorities start parting the seas of Mardi Gras people with roadblocks, it’s time to get ready for the parade.