This winter is really getting old. I’m tired of it, in spite of the
fact that I like cool weather. My weather complaints are usually focused on
muggy heat rather than winter chill, but the two ice storms this winter
have resulted almost a week’s worth of power outages and major damage
to our house and trees. Spring can’t come too soon, as far as
I’m concerned — as long as there’s not another tornado
like last March’s.
Unfortunately, there’s still more winter ahead.
Fortunately, a tiny group of local citizens is helping us get through the
next few weeks.
In 2004, Kate Hawkes, owner of the Trout Lily
Café, and Frank Parker, an outstanding local trumpet player, joined
forces to produce a Mardi Gras sidewalk parade in downtown Springfield.
Downtown merchants participated with sales and passed out the traditional
beads. Everyone had a wonderful time and considered it a great success. For
the next two years, both Hawkes and Parker had out-of-town commitments. The
parade went on, though it was smaller.
This year, however, Hawkes and Parker are back in full
force. Recruiting John Sluzalis, the drummer in Frank’s band, and
Tony Leone, owner of the Pasfield House, to their committee, they’ve
put together a three-day Mardi Gras celebration, Feb. 18-20, with something
for everyone, and it’s sure to put paid to those winter blues.
Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday” in
French, is the day before the start of Lent in the Christian calendar. Many
of the countries and regions celebrate the days leading up to Ash Wednesday
with parties, parades, and copious food and drink. In Brazil —
especially Rio de Janeiro — it’s known as Carnivale; in Austria
it’s called Fasching. No celebration, however, is more fun, more
riotous, more special — or more delicious —than the one that
takes place in New Orleans.
Though Mardi Gras specifically means the day
immediately before Ash Wednesday, it’s grown into a tradition
involving celebrations that start in the days (or weeks) before the actual
Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana Cajun country, and other areas around
the Gulf, such as Biloxi, Miss.
Springfield’s own Mardi Gras committee wants to
bring that tradition here, along with some of New Orleans’ best food.
The celebrations start with a Sunday Jazz Brunch at the Pasfield House.
From 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Johnny Slu and Two Few will serenade diners
feasting on the creations of Michael Taylor of the late Bayou Grill and
August Mrozowski of
Augie’s Front Burner. The final menu is still under discussion, but
it will include such classics as red beans and rice, crawfish
étouffée, chicken Creole, and jambalaya.
The next day, the festivities continue with a Lundi
Gras Ball (lundi is
French for “Monday”). Frank Parker’s AllStar Jambalaya
Jam Band will play from 6-10 p.m. New Orleans specialties prepared by
Taylor and Michael Higgins of Maldaner’s will be served from 6-8 p.m.
Costumes are encouraged, and a prize will be awarded for the best by a
panel of “local celebrities.” The king of Mardi Gras will be
On Fat Tuesday, the revelry begins at the Trout Lily
Café with face-painting for children from 5-6:30 p.m. A
family-oriented parade from 6:30-7:30 p.m., led by Frankie and
Johnny’s New Orleans Brass Band, will wind through the streets of
downtown. Costumes are again encouraged. At 7:30, revelers will reconvene
at the Trout Lily Café for the Second Line Downtown Pub Crawl.
Frankie and Johnny’s band will again lead the parade around, and
inside downtown watering holes, with the participants drinking, gathering
beads, and eating as they go.
The Mardi Gras Committee hopes that this is just the
beginning. If things go well this year, the Springfield Mardi Gras will
become an annual event with more sponsors and perhaps even a small budget
for promotion and planning. The members of the committee are working hard
to make it happen, committed to helping those of us who are struggling to
get through these last weeks of winter.
Capacity at both the Sunday Jazz Brunch and the Lundi
Gras Ball is limited. The Sunday Jazz Brunch, on Feb. 18, costs $30 per
person. Reservations must be made in advance. Tickets for the Lundi Gras
Ball, on Feb. 19, are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. All events on Fat
Tuesday, Feb. 20, are free. Tickets for all events are available at the
Trout Lily Café, 218 S. Sixth St.; The Cardologist, 225 S. Sixth
St.; or Augie’s Front Burner, 2 W. Old State Capitol Plaza. For more
information, call Kate Hawkes, 217-391-0101; Frank Parker, 217-529-0415;
John Sluzalis, 217-341-6437; or Tony Leone, 217-525-3663.