There exists a unique anguish this time of year that comes of the deep down knowledge that no amount of strident protest will bring about “tulip weather.” That no amount of pleading with a favorite senator, a pious bishop, or even your mother can halt winter’s wily ways. Many morose, icebound folk often resort to pointing out how good life IS in the north in order to rationalize making a home here, all the while dreaming of southerly climes. Prepare yourself to glare at me distrustfully out from under your parka. I’m one of those winter lovers. It’s not the sports. You’ll never see skis, skates, or snowshoes attached to my body. I just love being in this season from that early October frost to that moment around June 17th when you finally feel like winter isn’t going to rise up again like Michael Myers on the other side of the bed in that scene from the end of Halloween. Minnesota serves up Jack Frost as good as any. But come the end of January even I begin to ache for a particular southerly clime. It’s that one provided by New Orleans.
It’s Mardi Gras time. These worldwide, unbridled celebrations are actually associated with the Roman Catholic Church’s calendar. They begin with Epiphany on January 6th and culminate with Fat Tuesday, which this year falls on March 8th. All in the name of getting the party out your system, so to speak, in preparation for the long fast of Lent. In the United States the largest of these celebrations happens in New Orleans. My birthday, January 31st, is considered a huge and important part of the carnival season. I, however, am the only one who considers it thusly, so no need to write the editor.
Mardi Gras has been celebrated for over three hundred years in the United States, the first one reported in Mobile, Alabama 1703. After establishing themselves on their own corner of that southern swamp a couple of decades later, New Orleans began holding their version. But the first year Mardi Gras really began to resemble the one we know today was in 1872 New Orleans. The colors—purple, green and gold—were chosen, as well as the official Mardi Gras song, “If Ever I Cease To Love.” What with the colors, the song, parades, beads, king cakes and fancy dress balls, the 19th Century provided everything the modern day Fat Tuesday reveler needs.
While I’ve never spent Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I’ve been nibbling at the edges of it for over ten years now. I more often than not go down there for French Quarter Festival in April.
Last year I also made the trip down on my birthday weekend and had the honor of playing with the Treme Brass Band in the huge Krewe du Vieux parade. If you look at the below video, I’m the clarinetist in the beige jacket that you see in the first 1.3 seconds.
I will not be making the trip this year, and I actually experience an unpleasant physiological response every time I say those words. It’s an affliction I know I share with others of my friends who also find themselves staying in Minnesota against their better judgment. Last year we marshaled twenty-six musicians together at the Nomad World Pub to make sure the final moments of Fat Tuesday were properly observed. I won’t tell the whole story unless you ask me, but this picture sums it up:
Tomorrow night I’ll be with the Bill Evans New Orleans Jazz Band at Bennett’s Chop and Rail, playing “If Ever I Cease To Love” among others. If I don’t see you there, tip one for the holiday, or wear some gold, green and purple. What other time of your life is it perfectly respectable to wear those colors at the same time?