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Party Gras
The Carnegie Carnival to celebrate Mardi Gras with style
By Catherine Godbey
The Decatur Daily

Brennen Smith/Decatur Daily
Bill Thomson explains the float’s concept to fellow Crewe du Mystic Twilight member Willa Dockery. The crewe will be among many at the Carnegie Carnival on Feb. 9.

Standing next to the white-painted trailer and unidentifiable wood cutouts, Bill Thomson quickly glanced down at the tightly-rolled poster in Juanita Healy’s hand.

Should they or shouldn’t they?

No, they decided, they shouldn’t and wouldn’t.

For 10 months, the members of Crewe du Mystic Twilight closely guarded their team’s theme. And that, Thomson and Healy said, is the way it will remain until the float rolls through downtown Decatur on Saturday night during the second annual Carnegie Carnival.

Organized by the Carnegie Visual Arts Center, the family-friendly Mardi Gras-style celebration will feature a children’s parade, an animal parade, a red beans and rice cook-off, children’s activities and spray paint artists. But the highlight of the event, all agree, will be the Carnegie Carnival Parade at 6 p.m.

“It was amazing last year the number of people who came out, especially considering the storms we had. There were thousands of people,” said Carnegie executive director Kim Mitchell. “We expect it to be bigger and better this year.”

Crewe du Mystic Twilight agrees, and that represents a challenge. If the parade is “bigger and better,” they need to create a “bigger and better” float.

For the past month, as temperatures dipped into the low 20s and the wind from the Tennessee River whipped through the empty concrete floor warehouse, the 28-member crewe met at the former Habitat for Humanity Restore to translate their vision into reality.

“There were days I felt like I was drilling with a block of ice. It has been brutal,” said Thomson, metal drill in hand.

Despite months of planning and weeks of construction, with six days until the big reveal, more work remains.

“We want everyone to be surprised and amazed by our float. The mystery is our biggest draw. You just keep everyone hanging in anticipation. You also don’t want anyone stealing your ideas,” Healy said with a smile.

Don’t let the smile deceive you.

For the more than 100 participants who will toss MoonPies, beads, doubloons and candy to revelers, the costumes and floats mean serious business.

“It really is all about having fun,” crewe member Mary Allen said, pausing for one second. “We still want to have the best float.”

This is the second year Crewe du Mystic Twilight — a nod to the “Twilight” books and movies — will participate in the Carnegie Carnival. The 28 members credit — or blame, depending on who is asked — Healy for organizing the crewe.

“It’s my fault. Five minutes after the Carnegie posted on Facebook about the Carnival, I signed up a crewe. I had no crewe name, I had no crewe members, but I was the first one to sign up,” Healy said proudly.

Last year was a learning experience for the group of architects, engineers, office managers, retirees, grandparents and artists.

“What’s the most important thing we learned? Drive slower,” Allen said with a laugh. “We had people running next to our float because we were going so fast. And we needed more throws. There’s no way we will run out this year.”

Proceeds raised during the Carnegie Carnival will benefit the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.

While Healy enjoys the revelry, supporting the Carnegie motivated her to participate.

“The Carnegie really is a treasure, and this is going to turn into their biggest fundraiser,” Healy said. “This is a great event for the Carnegie and a great event for Decatur.”

Carnegie Carnival Events

Friday
7:30 p.m., Les Kerr & the Bayou Band
Saturday
8 a.m., Mardi Gras 5K. Proceeds go to the community projects of the Junior League of Morgan County.
10 a.m.-4 p.m., Red Beans and Rice Cook Off at Bank Street Green. Proceeds go to the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.
10 a.m.-4 p.m., Children’s Creation Station at Founder’s Park
10 a.m.-4 p.m., Carnegie Carnvial Stage on Second Avenue
11 a.m., Carnival Canine Parade. Proceeds go to the Animal Friends Humane Society.
Noon-4 p.m., spray paint artists at Lee and Bank Street
2 p.m., Prince & Princess Parade. Proceeds go to Parents and Children Together.
6 p.m., Carnegie Carnival Parade. Proceeds go to the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.

‘Celebrating with the Saints and Sinners: NOLA’

Amid the creeping floats, throngs of marchers and revelers lining the streets, Aimee Tomasek scanned the crowd. She lifted the camera and pressed the button.

Click — a man in a sequined bodice, angel wings and studded white Elvis-style glasses.

Click — a woman with a rabbit mask covering her head.

Click — a mustachioed man dressed half in a bride’s veil and half in a groom’s tuxedo.

Click — a man dressed as a jungle warrior with fake blood smeared on his chest and a bone necklace hanging around his neck.

In any other place at any other time, the crowds surrounding these individuals captured in the photographs would give them a second look. But not at Mardi Gras.

“There is just something about Mardi Gras. It is a whirl of activity. New Orleans is like no other city in the United States, and Mardi Gras is like no other event,” said Tomasek.

The photographer’s images from Mardi Gras 2012 currently hang at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center. The 40-piece “Celebrating with the Saints and Sinners: NOLA” exhibit will be on display through Saturday.

“I think this is a man, but then again, it could be a woman. That’s what is so great about these photos, they are so interesting and mysterious,” said exhibits coordinator Kathy Silvestri.

The woman behind the lens described her art as documentary photographs and social commentary.

“All of the pieces address how unique we are as individuals and how as individuals we are all the same,” said Tomasek, an associate professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana.

For nearly 20 years, Tomasek captured the people of Mardi Gras, from the masked bead throwers to the marching bands to the children perched on their parent’s shoulders. Through the pictures, she aims to take viewers to New Orleans, just as Mark Twain and Garrison Keillor transported her.

As a girl growing up in the farm land of Amery, Wis., Tomasek escaped down the Mississippi River with Twain and experienced the cold Minnesota winters with Keillor.

“Mark Twain and Garrison Keillor had the ability to tell stories that made places and characters come alive,” Tomasek said.

“I wanted to tell those stories about New Orleans. I want to lead viewers to the party.”

Tomasek used a lensbaby for her latest Mardi Gras creations. The equipment produced images with a clear, sharp center and blurred exterior.

“I wanted to eliminate peripheral noise and not allow viewers from focusing on something I didn’t want them looking at. It forces you to focus on the isolated event. It is one punctuation mark in the overall chaos of the overwhelming event that is Mardi Gras,” she said.

If you go

What: “Celebrating with the Saints and Sinners: NOLA”
When: Through Saturday, Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Where: Carnegie Visual Arts Center 207 Church St. N.E.
Cost: Free, donations accepted.

Les Kerr & the Bayou Band

The twang of the guitar mixed with the blare of the saxophone and the wail of the accordion sends listeners to the bead-strewn cobble-stoned streets of New Orleans.

On Friday, a Decatur audience will make the musical trip to Mardi Gras with Nashville-based Les Kerr & the Bayou Band. The concert at the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts will kick-off the Second annual Carnegie Carnival.

“We asked the Carnegie if we could enhance the Mardi Gras weekend with a Friday night concert,” said Princess executive director Lindy Ashwander. “It is a great way for all of us to collaborate to make an annual event as successful as possible.”

Expect a combination of classic favorites and New Orleans-inspired originals.

“This is a Mardi Gras show and we can’t do a Mardi Gras show without the standards of ‘Mardi Gras Mambo,’ ‘They All Ask For You’ and ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ ” Kerr said.

For the past two decades, the band’s blend of Zydeco, rockabilly, bluegrass and blues became a staple of the Mardi Gras season. The band’s 2013 Fat Tuesday Tour began on Friday in Dickson, Tenn., and will end Feb. 12 at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville.

“When I moved up to Nashville in 1987, I noticed there was no Mardi Gras celebration. I approached the owner of the Bluebird Cafe and asked if we could do a Mardi Gras party. She said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ Here we are 22 years later,” Kerr said.

A Gulf Coast native, Kerr grew up celebrating Mardi Gras in Mobile — the home of the first Mardi Gras celebration, Mobilians proudly claim. In college, he received an introduction to the “other” Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Mardi Gras.

Don’t ask Kerr to take sides in the Mobile versus New Orleans debate. Both, he said diplomatically, have their strengths.

“You get a very family-friendly atmosphere in Mobile. In New Orleans, well, there is just a magic to the city,” Kerr said.

Although he lived in Mobile for seven years, the unique personality of New Orleans — the city he has had a “lifelong love affair with” — captured his heart, soul and imagination.

“There is something romantic about the city,” Kerr said. “Before I knew it, references to New Orleans were creeping in my songwriting. The more I went, the more I found New Orleans in my songs.”

During Friday’s concert, Kerr plans on performing the New Orleans-inspired “The Camellia Grill,” “New Orleans in the Spring” and “Below the Level of the Sea.”

If you go

What: Les Kerr & the Bayou Band
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets: $20-25, available at the box office, by phone at 256-340-1778 or online at princesstheatre.org.

And if you get hungry ...

Red Beans and Rice

1 pound dried red beans, rinsed and sorted over
3 tablespoons bacon grease
¼ cup chopped tasso, or chopped ham
1½ cups chopped yellow onions
¾ cup chopped celery
¾ cup chopped green bell peppers
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
½ pound smoked sausage, split in half lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound smoked ham hocks
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
10 cups chicken stock, or water
4 cups cooked white rice
¼ cup chopped green onions, garnish
Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside.
In a large pot, heat bacon grease over medium-high heat. Add the tasso and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the onions, celery and bell peppers. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Stir until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add  bay leaves, parsley, thyme, sausage and ham hocks. Stir to brown the sausage and ham hocks, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook for a minute. Add the beans and stock or water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered. Stir occasionally until beans are tender and start to thicken, about 2 hours.
Remove from heat and, with the back of a heavy spoon, mash ¼ of the beans against the side of the pot. Continue to cook until the beans are tender and creamy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaves. Serve over rice and garnish with green onions.
New Orleans Travel and Tourism

Moon Pie Madness

For most people, a limit to the number of MoonPies one can eat exists. Of course, this excludes competitive eater Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas, who ate 38 MoonPies in eight minutes. The rest of us are satisfied with one, two or, at the most, three, of the cake-like treats. For Saturday’s parade-goers, here are two recipes featuring MoonPies. Come on, you know you will take home all the MoonPies you can carry.

Banana Moon Pie Pudding

1-5.1 ounce box of instant vanilla pudding
1-14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
1½ cups of cold water
3 cups heavy whipping cream
12 of your favorite flavor MoonPies
6 bananas
Mix together pudding, sweetened condensed milk and water and refrigerate 4 hours. Whip heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold pudding into whipped cream until smooth. Slice the bananas. Layer pudding, crushed moon pies and banana slices. Repeat the layers and top with more crushed MoonPies.

Brownie Moon Pie

3 Moon Pies, any flavor
1 box brownie mix
3 eggs
¼ cup water
¾ cup vegetable oil
Break up MoonPies into chunks and place in the bottom of a cooking pan. Prepare brownie mix as directed for the cake-like recipe. Pour batter on top of MoonPies. Cook as directed. Serve warm with ice cream.

For more information about Carnegie Carnival, visit www.carnegiecarnival.com.
Catherine Godbey can be reached at 256-340-2441 or cgodbey@decaturdaily.com.

 

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