Marcus Johnson, Founder, Bay City Brass Band

December 24, 2014 - Marcus Johnson, founder and director of Bay City Brass Band, is being remembered as a master musician, keeper of the brass band flame, and mentor to dozens of aspiring horn players. Marcus died December 20, 2014, just four days before his 44th birthday. Marcus grew up in Mobile and started playing tuba in middle school, just like his three brothers. After college, he joined Mobile Olympia Brass Band, a fixture in south Alabama Mardi Gras parades. “He taught himself to play trombone and piano,” said George “Mac” McIntosh, manager of Olympia. “I’ve even seen him play drums. He was a great musician.”
     After four years with Olympia, Marcus decided to start his own band for younger players. “I used to think you had to be old to be in a brass band,” Marcus said in an interview for public radio several years ago. He formed the Bay City Brass Band in 1997, and it quickly became a presence in local Mardi Gras parades. The band’s style, he said in the interview, was imported directly from New Orleans. “I get my knowledge from studying the New Orleans sound,” he said. “They have so many brass bands there, it’s a way of life, and I wanted to bring some of that to Mobile.”
     In 2006, Marcus was selected to participate in the Community Scholars Institute. He was also awarded a continuing grant under the Alabama Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program, administered by the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture. “The master artists in the Apprenticeship Program represent some of Alabama’s true cultural treasures,” according to the Center.
     Tony Covin of Mobile remembers Marcus as a musical mentor to his 10-year-old, trumpet-playing son, Aaron. Two years ago, Tony Covin said, Aaron’s grandmother “bought him a Bay City Brass Band CD from Toomey's. Every Sunday morning, he and I would put on some jazz CDs and listen to them. Bay City Brass was one of his favorites. At that time, he was playing in the Texas Street marching band. One Mardi Gras parade, we were lining up to start, and he spotted Mr. Johnson and the Bay City Brass Band. He begged me to let him go over there and talk to them. We did, and Marcus was so gracious, accommodating, and positive in talking to my son. Before we left, Marcus gave me his card and said to call him. I called a few weeks later, and Marcus invited us to his house to play. It was a seminal moment in my son's young life. He was in heaven. He learned some basic songs that day, played them all the way home in the car and played them for hours after we got home. From that point, we would go over and practice almost weekly, and Marcus invited my son to play with them at various events. We were always treated with such warmth and kindness.”
     Most recently, Marcus assisted with the musical portion of the Family Festival held at the Mobile Museum of Art in November to celebrate the Museum’s 50th anniversary and the opening of the exhibit, The Art and Design of Mardi Gras. Angie Gulledge, who was chairwoman of the festival’s music committee, said Marcus was a huge help and “a great friend to me” during the planning of the festival. “Marcus was passionate about the art of brass band music, and he wanted to share that passion with everyone else,” Angie said. “He was very gifted musically, and he knew so much about the history and heritage of brass bands. He taught me a great deal in the months I worked with him.” One of her favorite memories of the festival weekend, she said, occurred when Mobile Olympia Brass Band arrived early, Bay City was wrapping up onstage, and the venerable Excelsior Band was preparing to start its set. “I panicked momentarily, afraid that I had double placed them and wondered if they would be irritated,” Angie said. “But as I started toward the orchestra shell, where they were performing, they all began pulling chairs toward each other, enjoying their shared love for the music and catching up – fun and friendship of Mardi Gras with the brass tunes in the background.”
     According to Mac McIntosh, a number of those musicians are planning to play during the funeral service for Marcus, which is scheduled for Saturday at Church of God Pentecostal, 818 Telegraph Road. Visitation will be 9 to 11 a.m., and the service will start at 11. Burial will follow at Gethsemane Cemetery North in Eight Mile, on South Shelton Beach Road, between Bear Fork and Myers Roads. Reese Funeral Home in Prichard is handling arrangements. Marcus is survived by his wife, Shere Johnson; twin sons, Markel and Markes Johnson; three brothers; and two sisters.

Joe Cain Marchers Will Have Their Own Parade

December 5, 2014 - The Joe Cain Marching Society, which has experienced some friction with the Joe Cain Parading Society for the last couple of years, has obtained its own parade permit, according to Mobile police. As of right now, the Marching Society is scheduled to parade on Route A right behind the Parading Society on Joe Cain Day, February 15, 2015. "This changes the tradition, but we're just happy to be parading," said Ted Flotte, vice president of the Marching Society. Made up of established marching groups, including the Wild Mauvillians, DSD, and the Mistresses of Joe Cain, the Marching Society plans "to make our parade open to anyone who wants to march at no cost," Flotte said. Previously, the foot marchers led floats in the procession, which was overseen by the Parading Society. The marchers, however, complained about rules being put on them by the Parading Society, and a series of meetings failed to find a real solution. "We were just kicking the can down the road," Flotte said. "It was clearly leading to this - two separate groups." There is at least one more meeting scheduled, according to those involved, so some details may still change. Wayne Dean Sr., who will portray Chief Slacabamarinico for the 30th year, said he will lead the Marching Society from his mule-driven wagon. If the marchers go second, as the police department has it scheduled now, that means Dean will appear after all of the floats. The theme for the Marching Society, Dean said, will be Slac is Back Where He Belongs. If all goes well, Flotte said, Revelers will hardly notice the difference - except the parade may seem a little longer. "We're waiting to see what number the police department is going to cap us at. We're hoping for 600," Flotte said. For scheduling purposes, Mobile Mask will continue to refer the Joe Cain Procession as a singular event, even though it will be made up of two separate groups.

Big Changes on Tap for Lundi Gras Night 2015

November 25, 2014 - Lundi Gras night is due for some big changes this Mardi Gras. The biggest change will be the addition of a new parade, but the route and start time have also changed. The night had been solely occupied for decades by the Infant Mystics, but now the Order of Doves parade will follow the IM. On one hand, the Order of Doves is a new men’s mystic society founded in 2012, holding its first ball on Lundi Gras 2013 at Bishop State. On the other hand, according to the OOD vice president, the group is a reboot of Mobile’s very first African-American Mardi Gras mystic society, founded in 1894. And though they adopted the name and history of the Order of Doves, and the 75-member group is almost entirely African-American, it also has an open-door membership policy, the vice president said. “This is a group of young men, who are active in the community, and we embrace the mayor’s ‘One Mobile’ motto.” Most histories state that the original Order of Doves lasted until 1914. The other changes due for Monday, February 16, came at the request of the Infant Mystics, according to the police department. The IM and OOD parades will follow a new route, dubbed Route F (Route E is the one used by the King Elexis I parade on Joe Cain Day). Route F is essentially Route A minus the loop down Washington Street then up Canal to Broad. Instead of turning off Government onto Washington, the two parades will continue straight down Government to Broad Street, where they will pick up the usual Route A path. Mobile Mask will soon post a Route F map. And the Infant Mystics will not roll until 7 p.m. instead of the usual 6:30 start time, and the OOD parade will follow.

'Treme' Costumes to Join Mobile Exhibit
October 27, 2014 - When the Mobile Museum of Art opens the doors to its massive exhibit of Mobile Mardi Gras art and artifacts on November 8, a second exhibit, depicting part of Mardi Gras in New Orleans will also open. "Well-Suited: The Costumes of Alonzo Wilson for HBO's Treme" is a traveling exhibit that focuses on the phenomenon of Mardi Gras Indians. While the Mobile exhibit, titled "The Art and Design of Mardi Gras," put together in conjunction with the History Museum of Mobile and the Mobile Carnival Museum, will occupy the entire second floor of the Mobile Museum of Art, the Alonzo Wilson exhibit will be displayed in the Regional Gallery on the first floor, just to the left of the front door. The portion of "Well-Suited" that will be in Mobile includes 14 Mardi Gras Indian costumes - referred to as "suits" by the Indians themselves. All of the "Well-Suited" costumes were made for the "Treme" series on HBO, which lasted for three full seasons and a fourth partial season, airing between 2010 and 2013. One of the main characters of "Treme" was Albert Lambreaux (played by Clarke Peters), the Big Chief of a Mardi Gras Indian gang. The Mardi Gras Indians have been a phenomenon of the African-American communities in New Orleans for decades. At first, they were true gangs that battled each other on Mardi Gras Day. Today, however, they wander their neighborhoods on Fat Tuesday dressed in their glorious feathered suits. Each gang boasts through song that their chief is the "prettiest" of all and will not bow down to any other chief. Each gang's procession is made up of Spyboys, Flagboys, a Wild Man, and, of course, the Big Chief. The chants and songs of Mardi Gras Indian gangs, such as the Yellow Pocahontas, the Wild Tchoupitoulas, and the Wild Magnolias, have been the basis of many popular Mardi Gras songs, including "Iko Iko," "All on a Mardi Gras Day," and "Indian Red." Like the Mobile Mardi Gras exhibit, "Well-Suited" will run through May 3. To learn more about Mardi Gras Indians, try the House of Dance and Feathers web site by clicking here. 

Island Mystics Will Not Parade in 2015
October 24, 2014 - One of the core members and organizers of the Island Mystics has told Mobile Mask that the Dauphin Island group will not parade or hold a ball in 2015. He cited lack of interest by other members and potential members. "I hate to hear that," Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said. "But I know they were having some struggles over the last year or so." The last Island Mystics parade, held on February 8 of this year, had just four floats and 13 total units, without any marching bands or truck bands. Despite the parade's small size, it continued to draw thousands of revelers to Dauphin Island on that Saturday. Collier said there has been discussion of trying a number of different things to keep the struggling Mystics rolling, including having them parade on the same day as the larger Krewe de la Dauphine. Incorporated in January 1992, the Island Mystics was the first Mardi Gras parading society to form on Dauphin Island and chose the Saturday before Mobile's Conde Cavaliers as the date for its parade and ball. That would have put the 2015 parade on January 31. There is no word on whether the change will alter the plans of the Krewe de la Dauphine. Starting in 1994, KDLD has always paraded on the Saturday before the Island Mystics, and the next KDLD parade is currently slated for January 17. The Island Mystics organizer told Mobile Mask that this is not necessarily the end for them. Taking a year off, he said, will hopefully give them the opportunity to regroup and return in 2016. 

Festival to Open Mardi Gras Exhibit in 1 Month
October 8, 2014 - One month from today, the Mobile Museum of Art’s mammoth exhibit, The Art and Design of Mardi Gras, will open with a Mardi Gras themed festival that has been months in the planning. All of this forms the centerpiece of the Museum’s 50th anniversary. Admission will be free to the 50th Anniversary Family Festival, being held on the museum grounds November 8 and 9 (10 am to 4 pm each day). The festival will be divided into venues that accent the “sensory components of the overall Carnival experience,” according the festival committee. The taste and smell venue, of course, will contain concessions that are representative of Carnival cuisine, including hamburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, and funnel cakes. In addition, “a number of interactive, food-related activities will take place in this area,” according to the committee. Music will be highlighted in the sound venue, where visitors will find a band competition for local high school marching bands or music by local brass bands and interactive programs, such as second line dancing instruction and an “instrument petting zoo.” The visual venue will showcase the parading organizations and people that make Mardi Gras happen. It will include floats from various organizations, emblems, maskers, a tiny float parade, and a costume photo booth. The sense of touch venue will provide arts and crafts and will utilize the educational facilities and staff of the museum as well as a number of volunteer artists. Children at the festival will be issued “passports,” which they can have stamped at each of the venues. A full passport will lead to prizes for the kids. All along the way, the festival will encourage folks to be among the very first to visit the Mardi Gras exhibit that takes up the entire second floor of the museum.

To Prevent Confusion, Order of Isis is Now OOI

September 16, 2014 - According to the president of the Mobile Mardi Gras mystic society Order of Isis, the ladies' group will now be known simply as OOI. Because of the rise of the notorious Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, the members of the Mardi Gras group decided to boil its name down to OOI. Here is the full statement released by the president: "Due to recent events in the Middle East, there has been unfortunate confusion over the name of our group versus the terrorist army that has invaded Syria and Iraq. Our organization, founded in 2008, was named after Isis, the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and nature. Our name, of course, has nothing to do with the ISIS acronym that the media has applied to the terrorists. Our organization does not intend to change its name, but to avoid any confusion, it will be referred to simply as OOI for the foreseeable future. Those who know Mobile Mardi Gras know our name and our group, but those who do not understand Mardi Gras could react badly to our name, and that’s understandable. At our own expense, we have changed our logo and our emblem throws for Mardi Gras 2015 to say only OOI. In light of the horrific events taking place in the Middle East, especially at the hands of the Islamic State, the problem created for our women’s group is less than insignificant. However, we wish to go on doing what we’ve been doing for almost seven years now, simply spreading Mardi Gras cheer and goodwill. We certainly don’t want the name of our organization creating any confusion or bad feelings." The president said members were recently confronted by people who did not understand the "Order of Isis" printed on their T-shirts, and the organization simply did not want to be targeted by people who do not realize it was named after an Egyptian goddess. According to stories in the media, at least one company has changed its Isis name, while another is keeping it. When contacted by Mobile Mask, the captain of the Krewe of Isis, a ladies Mardi Gras group in Metairie, Louisiana, said her group will make no changes. She wrote in an email that "for 43 years, our name has represented a wonderful group of women, who are proud Americans and who will not give in or give up a title we have created and maintained with dignity and pride." Mobile Mask will refer to the local group as OOI in all schedules and other materials until the group decides otherwise.

No More New Year's Eve Parade

September 3, 2014 - Mobile Mask has learned that the annual Mardi Gras-style New Year's Eve parade that has been part of the downtown Moon Pie drop festivities for the last four years has been cut. According to Carol Hunter, president of Events Mobile, the parade has been eliminated because of logistical reasons. The parade route had to go around stage areas throughout the downtown area, and that meant much of the route was unattended. "That's no fun for anybody," she said. Also, Hunter said, the timing just wasn't working out. Organizers wanted to move the start time to at least 8 p.m., and that would not have worked for the paraders. With city belt-tightening, Hunter said, organizers had to look for ways to reduce expenses for the city, and that included the police and emergency responders needed for an early parade. "This is not a reflection on the parading groups," Hunter said. "They did a great job. It just wasn't working out." Much of the parade was made up of floats and riders volunteered by several area parading groups, including the Infant Mystics, the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association, the Conde Explorers, the Mystics of Time, and the Mobile Mystics. A board member from one of those groups told the Mask that the group was disappointed to see the parade canceled. The group was planning on turning the event into an all-night affair for all the members. Hunter did hint that there may still be a way to include Mardi Gras and even a couple of floats in the New Year's Eve festivities, though that has not been firmed up yet.

Help Cain Footmarchers and Have Fun Doing It!
June 23, 2014 - How about some genuwine Mardi Gras hoopla in the summertime? The inaugural Joe Cain Footmarchers Ball will be this Thursday, June 26, 7 p.m., at Moe’s Original BBQ downtown, 701 Spring Hill Ave. Featured entertainment will be Kansas Bible Company, with opening act Alanna Royale. Both bands hail from Nashville and have previously performed at Bonnaroo among other festivals. Chief Slacabamarinico hisself will make an appearance along with Joe Cain Day favorites the Mistresses of Joe Cain, the DSD Pirates, the Wild Mauvillians and many more. Net proceeds from the Ball will go to the nonprofit Joe Cain Marching Society, Inc. to cover costs for ALL marching participants in the 2015 Joe Cain Procession. Tickets are available online at and at Moe's. Cost is $20 in advance or $25 at the door.

Piece of Mobile Mardi Gras History Up for Bid
April 18, 2014 - There's almost always some Mobile Mardi Gras items for sale on eBay, from posters to doubloons. On a rare occasion, something truly old, even historical shows up. Right now, there is an Order of Myths brass brooch from 1917 up for bid on the web site. The actual pin on the back is missing, and the brooch is in fair to good condition, but the bas relief of Folly, Death, and the broken column are clearly visible. On the back, the manufacturer stamp reads "Whitehead & Hoag Co., Newark N.J." The pin was most likely a ball favor - a small gift from the OOMs to members' wives and other ladies. The eBay seller, who is located in Carver, Massachusetts, told Mobile Mask that he purchased the pin from a vendor at a flea market just south of Boston. "I don't know who he was, and I don't know where the pin originated from. I had no idea what OOM was until I researched it. I just thought it looked unusual and early." The Order of Myths, of course, is Mobile's first and oldest Mardi Gras mystic society, founded in 1868. Clearly, the seller, who said he puts things up on eBay as a hobby, has a good eye. As of noon today, the price on the pin was up to $152.50 after 36 bids. He did not tell the Mask how much he spent on it, but it was surely not that much, since neither he nor the previous seller knew what it was at the time. UPDATE: The auction closed Sunday afternoon, and this item sold for an impressive $536.50.

A Special Mardi Gras Moment
April 4, 2014 - It was a Mardi Gras ride worth waiting for. This is the story of a dad and a son, but it's much more than that. The son joined the Crewe of Columbus back in 2012, just as soon as he was old enough, making him the fourth generation of his family in the Crewe. He was also told that he was eligible to ride on a float his first year - 2013. But dad, a National Guardsman and a 12-year member of the Crewe, was deployed to Kuwait for a year and was going to miss Mardi Gras 2013. "I told him he couldn't ride until I got back," the father said. "He was initially disappointed, sure, but he understood. I wanted to be there for that first ride." The father essentially married into the Crewe. His wife was a COC queen two years before they even met. Her grandfather was a charter member. Her father, of course, was a longtime member, and her two brothers were in the Crewe, as well. "My kids were at the parades when they were three weeks old," the dad said. "I'm hoping that both of my daughters will get to be queens." So dad returned from Kuwait Thanksgiving 2013, and the plans were on for Mardi Gras. When Float 15, "Climbing the Matterhorn," rolled down the streets on February 28, father and son rode side-by-side on the lower tier. Grandfather and uncles were stationed just above them on the upper tier. "It was special, it really was," dad said. "He was a bit throw-happy, but I knew he would be. We brought plenty and never ran out." In the end, both father and son were happy that they waited. "His first ride, that's something he'll always remember," dad said. "I'll never forget mine. And now, I'll never forget his either."

Widows, Mistresses, and Chief Slac - Oh My!
March 29, 2014 - Mobile's Mardi Gras went into extra innings at the Church Street Graveyard today, producing some sights and situations never before seen. The impetus was the final day of filming for a new British-produced reality show that combines travel and magic. The show, currently being called "Road Trick" - though that's apparently not set in stone, follows three New York magicians from one American city to another. The magicians get to know the city and perform feats of magic for the people they meet along the way. For the Mobile episode, Mardi Gras was the focus as the magicians visited Toomey's Mardi Gras store, the Mobile Carnival Museum, and the Conde Cavaliers float barn. At midday today, a dozen members of Cain's Merry Widows, a dozen members of the Mistresses of Joe Cain, Wayne Dean, who has portrayed Chief Slac for nearly 30 years now, Theodore Arthur Jr. of the Excelsior Band, a half dozen Wild Mauvillians, several members of DSD, and assorted hardcore revelers converged on the final resting place of Joe Cain. This was all terribly interesting, since for years, the Graveyard has been all but owned by the Widows, who make an appearance there every year on Joe Cain Day. To have them and the Mistresses together in the Graveyard is unheard-of, and it's been years since Chief Slac has appeared there as well. And when the Widows and the Mistresses do cross paths, it may as well be the Jets and the Sharks in a dark alley. There's plenty of insults, hissing, and even mild violence involved. The menagerie of Mardi Gras characters first witnessed and reacted to an illusion performed in the Graveyard (we all actually had to sign a confidentiality agreement, saying we wouldn't reveal  anything about the illusion itself). Then they were all corralled to the top of Scott Street and paraded into the Graveyard, which hasn't happened since the Joe Cain Procession was banned from that Graveyard many years ago. The Widows then renewed their vows, if you will, over Joe Cain's gravesite as the Mistresses watched from a safe distance. The whole thing culminated with a bit of a melee between the Widows and Mistresses, with Chief Slac and the magicians caught in the middle, and Arthur providing the soundtrack with his saxophone. One Widow held up a small sign that read "Mistresses Smell BAD! (Really)," and more than one instance of using red or black roses as weapons was witnessed. Through it all, however, no one spilled their libation. It was just another Saturday in Sweet Lunacy's County Seat. If you'd like to see the Mask's photo album of these extraordinary events, click here.

The Rare Occasion in Which Everybody Wins

March 21, 2014: With the amazing success this year of Krispy Kreme's Beads for Doughnuts program, the Mask thought the whole thing deserved some more explanation and accolades. First, some numbers: Over three days, March 17-19, 9,116 people brought in 12 or more pounds of Mardi Gras beads. Each of them received a certificate good for a dozen glazed doughnuts. At a retail price of $8.49 per dozen, that means the Mobile Krispy Kreme gave away $77,394.84 worth of its product. The company also paid for the trucks to deliver 78 so-called gaylord shipping boxes full of beads - weighing a total of something between 58 and 70 tons - to a Mobile public schools storage building. From there, the beads will be sorted, cleaned, and packaged for resale by 27 special-needs students at the Augusta Evans School. The proceeds will go right back into school programs. Last year, the then-record 45 bins of beads collected by Krispy Kreme yielded about $48,000 for the school, according to special education teacher Susan Mulvey. This year, she said, she's a tad apprehensive about whether the students will be able to get through all those beads, "but somehow it always seems to work out," she said. About 20 percent of the haul will be discarded - broken beads, beads that are in terrible shape or too tangled to be sorted, along with Moon Pies and whatever else people tossed into their contributions. "We've found bricks before," Mulvey said. "People do that to make the bag weigh enough to get their doughnuts. We even found a wrench that had to have been worth more than a dozen doughnuts." As for the flying discs, footballs, and other throws people include, much of that is saved for the kids to throw when they get to ride with the Bayport Parading Society during the next Mardi Gras. The program, she said, helps these special kids learn about the value of work, how to follow instructions, and it gives them pride, knowing they can do something that has worth. Area maskers benefit because they can purchase the repackaged throws for a little less money than new throws. And we all benefit because of the recycling that's done. This was Krispy Kreme's 11th year collecting Mobile's unwanted beads, and all the folks out there - Bob Glidden, Chris Brooks, Joe McAleer, to name just the top guys - truly seem to love doing it, and they want to break the record every year. Full disclosure, Krispy Kreme is an advertiser in the Mobile Mask magazine, and the Mask could not be prouder to have them on board. Their product is all about the taste of the South, and it's all about the indulgence of Mardi Gras. And the Beads for Doughnuts program is so ingenious that it would be difficult to come up with something else that spreads so much good with the simple lure of dough and sugar. Next Mardi Gras, don't forget to put aside a couple of bags of beads and haul them out to Krispy Kreme a couple of weeks after Fat Tuesday - the Mask will let you know the exact dates when they are announced. You'll get some doughnuts, and your beads will do some good.

MOT Marching Band Contest Awards
March 19, 2014 - Seven masked, costumed men strode through the halls of Baker High School today and entered a hastily called meeting of the school's band students. The members of the Mystics of Time Mardi Gras parading group came with gifts: beads, doubloons, a giant trophy, and a check for $500. West Mobile's Baker High was declared the winner of the MOT's second Champions of the Street competition. The Baker band came in third last year and beat out 16 other bands this year to take the top spot. In addition to the trophy and check, the band was presented with a 2014 Champions of the Street banner that will precede Baker in the 2015 parade. The first, second and third-place bands received automatic invitations to next year's parade. Baker band director Sid Dedeaux accepted the trophy and held it high over his head as his students cheered and applauded. "Get ready, because the competition is getting stiff," an MOT board member told the students. "We've already got six 6A schools that want to be in the parade next year." To see an 18-photo album of today's visit to Baker, click here. On Tuesday, MOT representatives traveled to Moss Point, Mississippi, to present the second-place trophy and a check for $300 to the Moss Point High marching Tigers. And on Monday, MOT members traveled to Lee County, Alabama, to present a trophy and $200 to the Loachapoka High School marching band for coming in third place, just one point behind Moss Point. MOT members said they were especially impressed with story of the band at 1A Loachapoka. In 2008, the band had just two students; now it has 71, which is about 25 percent of the school's student body. The Champions of the Street contest was started in 2013 as an effort to attract marching bands from all over the Southeast and to motivate those bands to perform at their best. Each band is rated by representatives of the other bands, who observe from spots all over the parade route. Best-known for its three self-propelled dragon floats, the MOT parade is among Mobile’s most popular. The Mobile Police Department said that 106,432 people - the year's second-biggest Mardi Gras crowd - turned out for the 2014 MOT parade. Next year's parade will be held on Valentine's Day, February 14.

Chief Barber Talks About Mardi Gras Issues

February 14, 2014 - Just hours before the first downtown Mardi Gras parade of the 2014 season, Mobile Mask interviewed Mobile Police Chief James Barber about several issues of interest to parade-goers, including the no-smoking ordinance and rules about alcohol. A longtime veteran of the police department, Barber said he has worked Mardi Gras parades for about 25 years. But this is his first Mardi Gras as the head of the department. His number one goal, he said, is the safety of everyone involved. And the basic philosophy of the police department is to give people the freedom to have fun until someone proves they can’t handle that much freedom without endangering others.
• Smoking – According to City Hall, there is no waiver of the relatively new ordinance that prohibits smoking anywhere downtown. Barber said the police department’s goal is “voluntary compliance.” He said officers know that people are going to smoke at the parades. If someone complains to an officer about someone smoking, the officer is going to inform the smoker of the ordinance and ask them to put the cigarette out and not smoke again. If the person complies, there’s no problem, Barber said. He encouraged anyone bothered by someone smoking near them to notify an officer.
• Drinking – Barber described the police working Mardi Gras as having “incredible tolerance toward drinking in public.” Glass bottles are strictly prohibited, and underage drinking is rigorously rooted out. But adults with open containers in and around the parade route or downtown bars during Mardi Gras is allowed. This is an area, Barber stressed, that those who are imbibing are free to do so as long as they behave themselves.
• Non-drinking – The city has once again set aside a section of the parade route that is an alcohol-free zone, Barber said. It’s located on the west side of Royal Street between Government and Church streets, and it’s marked by signs. Anyone drinking in that area will be asked to leave.
• Special Needs Revelers – There is also an area of the parade route that is specially roped off and monitored for those in wheelchairs or with other physical challenges, Barber said. It’s located on Spring Hill Avenue at Washington Street, near the main fire house.
• Closing Dauphin Street – Barber had announced earlier this week that on parade nights, Dauphin Street will be closed to through traffic as late as 11 p.m. He explained that bar owners on Dauphin felt that reopening the street as early as 9, as had been the case, was hurting business. Barber said he will have some officers come into the area later in the evening, so they can stay later and keep Dauphin closed down between Conception and Jackson Streets. Cross streets will remain open, except Joachim. “We’ll be monitoring this and making adjustments as we go,” he said. “We’re trying to let people have a good time.”
• Manpower Adjustments – Earlier in the week, it was reported that Barber was considering trimming down the number of police officers working the parade route for some parades, especially those in the daytime that have lighter attendance. “In the past, we’ve applied one plan to every parade,” he said. “It was easier. But it wasn’t necessarily a good use of overtime funds. I’m simply trying to be a good steward of the city’s money and customize our manpower numbers to some of the smaller parades.” He did not want to talk specific numbers, but he said that at any parade, there will be more uniformed officers on hand than in the rest of the city. That doesn’t mean, however, that staffing in the rest of the city will be any lower than normal.

Peg Leg Pub Crawl Feb. 18
February 13, 2014 - A delightfully sketchy organization known as DSD (Dauphin Street Drunks) will be holding its 8th annual pirate-themed Peg Leg Pub Crawl on Tuesday, February 18. They invite one and all to join them as they second line through downtown and invade the restaurants and bars between Washington and Royal streets. Show up dressed as a pirate, and you will be greeted as an old friend. Bring throws, and you will be adored by one and all. The whole thing starts at the Garage at 5 p.m. and heads east on Dauphin Street by 6. They will be joined by a band at Café 615 at 7 p.m., and they try to wrap things up by 11, but you really never know what bar-hopping pirates might do. Their route – Route ARRRR, as they call it – goes east on Dauphin, cuts across Bienville Sqare, heads down Royal, then west on Conti, up Joachim, then it’s a zigzag, roughly. In  the true spirit of Mardi Gras, DSD was formed in 2006 by folks who lived, worked or simply drank a lot in downtown Mobile. The idea was to spread some Carnival cheer in the middle of that empty space between the Saturday night and Thursday night parades. 

Bands Coming From Far and Wide to Compete

February 12, 2014 - When the board members of Mobile’s Mystics of Time announced they would be holding an annual contest between the marching bands in their Mardi Gras parade, they hoped that the prizes and prestige would attract bands from all over. Last night, with their announcement of the band lineup for the second Champions of the Street Marching Band Competition, that goal was clearly moving forward. Of the 17 bands that will be in the MOT parade on March 1, five are from Mobile, one each from Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia, and the rest from as far away in Alabama as Birmingham and Phenix City. “We sent out 700 letters and heard from about 25 high schools,” one board member said. “We’ve had interest from New Orleans to Jacksonville, and it’s our hope the interest will keep growing. We’d like to host bands from all over the Southeast.” The Mobile bands that will be in the 2014 parade are last year’s first-prize winner, Blount High School; the third-place winner, Baker High School; along with Williamson, Vigor, and B.C. Rain high schools.
The out-of-town bands announced last night were:
• Calhoun High School – Letohatchee, Ala.
• Central High School – Lowndes County, Ala.
• Central Savannah River Area All-Star Band – Augusta, Ga.
• Chattahoochee Valley All-Star Band – Phenix City, Ala.
• Escambia County High School – Atmore, Ala.
• Jackson High School – Clarke County, Ala.
• Keith Middle/High School – Dallas County, Ala.
• Loachapoka High School – Lee County, Ala.
• Marbury High School – Elmore County, Ala.
• Moss Point High School – Moss Point, Miss.
• Pensacola High School – Pensacola, Fla.
• Tarrant High School – Jefferson County, Ala.
The bands will be judged on their performances during the MOT parade, which starts at 6 p.m. and follows Route A through downtown Mobile on March 1. The first-place winner will receive a trophy and $500. Second place will get a trophy and $300, and third place will win a trophy and $200. All three bands will get an automatic invitation to the next parade, which will be on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2015. Known for its three self-propelled dragon floats, the MOT parade is among Mobile’s most popular. Last year, Mobile police reported that the biggest crowd of the Mardi Gras season – 95,960 – turned out for the MOT parade.

Huntsville Should be Welcomed to the Party

February 5, 2014 - After seeing a short story about Huntsville's first-ever Mardi Gras parade being staged this year, the Mask decided to get in touch with the orchestrator of that effort, Marydae Sneed. She is the executive director of Blount Hospitality House, a kind of homegrown Ronald McDonald House for the families of people who are in the hospital. "I was needing a new fundraiser, an event that would kind of put us on the map," Marydae said. And, even though she's never been to a Mardi Gras celebration, she thought that putting on a Mardi Gras parade could be the answer. The planning has been in the works for a while, but the parade was only just announced in early January, and already the response has been pretty huge. There will be a parade on Saturday, March 1, at 5 p.m. over a 1-mile route in downtown Huntsville, followed by an afterparty. Twelve "krewes" have filled out their paperwork, and Marydae expects at least several more. Their floats will be rudimentary, of course, and there will be several challenges to overcome. For example, in Huntsville, it's illegal to throw anything from a moving vehicle, so throws will have to come from maskers on foot. And it's not like there's a bead store within 100 miles of there. Marydae said they will do most of their learning along the way, but her daydream is that their first parade will one day build into a full-blown Mardi Gras celebration for Huntsville. Plenty of folks here can tell her that big things come from humble starts - such as the first Joe Cain Procession or the first Gulf Shores Parade. The Mask urged Marydae to learn about Mobile's Mardi Gras, even visit us on Fat Tuesday. Now we urge Mobile to do the same thing. Reach out to this north Alabama effort and welcome them as brothers in revelry. Give them a hug, a beer, and some beads. The more, the merrier. And if there's a way you think you can help, they would surely appreciate it. There's a Facebook page and a web site, and there's an email address, Maybe your cousin has a band in Huntsville that could be in the parade. Even if your mystic society might want to issue a proclamation welcoming Huntsville to the band of Alabama revelers, that  would go a long way.

Crisis Averted - Mardi Gras Flags for Sale

January 31, 2014 - Ten days ago, Mobile Mask reported that it was impossible to purchase a new Mobile Mardi Gras flag, since the only entity that could have them made, the local YWCA, no longer exists. But local merchant Will Baxter, owner of Bienville Beads & Throws, has saved the day. About three weeks ago, Baxter contacted the Miami manufacturer that used to make the flags for the YWCA and convinced them to make some flags for him. Baxter has deep ties to this flag - his mother was one of two City Council members who sponsored the 1987 resolution that declared it to be the official flag of Mobile Mardi Gras. Baxter received the box of 50 flags today, and he is selling them at his seasonal store, located in the old Blockbuster building at Pinebrook shopping center, for $49.99 each. Once those 50 are gone, that's it for this year. After he opened the box of flags, Baxter pulled out the first one, held it open, then took it outside and ran it up the flagpole in front of his store. The copyright for the design of the flag still rests with the defunct YWCA office, but efforts are under way to acquire the copyright and place it in the hands of another area nonprofit. Until then, these are the only flags available, but that's 50 more than we had yesterday. Bienville Beads & Throws is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., and Sunday, noon until 5 p.m. The store's phone number is 251-202-3237, but flags will not be sold over the phone or the internet.


Huge Mardi Gras Exhibit to Open in Fall
January 24, 2014 - Mobile Mask magazine broke a story this year about an unprecedented Mardi Gras exhibit due to open here in November. As the centerpiece of the Mobile Museum of Art's 50th anniversary, the museum has joined forces with the History Museum of Mobile and the Mobile Carnival Museum to build "The Art and Design of Mardi Gras." This ambitious, from-scratch exhibit will feature art and artifacts from Mobile Mardi Gras, both historic and contemporary. The exhibit will take up the entire second floor of the Museum of Art - a truly huge amount of space. Museum Director Deborah Velders has said they are striving to put as many as 100 royal crowns on display, as well as dozens of royal trains from throughout the years. The exhibit will also focus on the art of Mardi Gras found in floats, at balls, even in invitations and posters. Without these various forms of art, Mardi Gras would simply be a big party. Anyone can throw a party, but only a couple of places have been able to create Mardi Gras for more than 100 years. Mobile Mask is honored to be a minor sponsor of this exhibit, which will show generations of Mobilians what a truly amazing thing we have in Mardi Gras. For more information about this exhibit, see the story on page 22 of the Mobile Mask magazine. Don't have one? Click here to see how to get yours today.

No Official Mardi Gras Flags to be Found

January 21, 2014 - Mobile's official Mardi Gras flag - given that distinction by the City Council in 1987 - simply can't be had. It may come back, but not this year. You see, the copyright for the design of the flag is owned by the YWCA. You used to have to go to the YW on Summerville Street and purchase it directly from them. It was usually a tricky proposition, since the organization only had small bunches of flags made at a time. But apparently, the local YWCA recently closed without any notice from the local media at all (the Mask Googled up a storm looking for any news story about the closing of the facility and came up empty). A Mobile area Mardi Gras official confirmed that the facility is permanently closed, and therefore you simply can't get a Mardi Gras flag. The issue has been discussed, and there is a plan to attempt to obtain the copyright for the flag from the national YWCA. However, since the copyright is owned by a nonprofit, it can be transferred only to another nonprofit. One such organization has stepped up and said it's willing to take possession of the copyright, but none of that is going to happen quickly. So, if you have an official Mobile Mardi Gras flag, hang onto it, treat it nicely, don't leave it out in bad weather. If you don't, Mobile Mask will stay on top of this story and let you know when they'll be available again.

 2014 News Archive

Here is an archive of the Mardi Gras News items that appeared on the Mobile Mask web site in 2014.