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Time to Organize A Krewe for Mardi Gras

Lake Wales Mardi Gras Draws Thousands, Happens in Early February

Series: Mardi Gras | Story 2

Although it's only early November, hundreds of people from Lake Wales and far beyond are preparing for the area's biggest festival of 2024.

The 40th annual Lake Wales Mardi Gras celebration will reach a climax on the busy weekend of February 10 when more than a dozen parade "krewes" will step off in colorful costumes and festooned floats to present the annual parade, the traditional high-point of weeks of celebration.

"Mardi Gras" is French for "fat Tuesday," the day before the Ash Wednesday start of Lent, a time many devote to personal sacrifices. The last chance for a feast made the day special. The color-and-music filled celebration, perhaps the largest in Florida, puts a purely-local spin on the Carnival season, perhaps epitomized by the weeks-long series of parades and masquerades held in New Orleans, but an event marked around the world in numerous cultures. The local festivities will get underway in earnest on Saturday, February 3, as the annual Shiner Ball, a black-light event, happens at The Coop. The Krewe of Pegasus is expected to close out the celebrations on Fat Tuesday with their own masquerade party.

The non-profit Mardi Gras organizing committee is actively inviting those interested in starting their own krewes to join a committee meeting and learn about the simple process. "The more krewes we have the better it gets," said eight-year organization president Josh Curchy. "We're floating around 16, 17 krewes. now, but want to have more. We're even reaching out to out-of-town groups who may want to come join us."

The Lake Wales event grew out of one restaurateur's simple desire for a jazz funeral. Vinton Davis, namesake of the famous Vinton's New Orleans restaurant that made the city's Arcade its home for decades, was a huge fan of the genre.

When Vinton passed, a simple conversation between a group of mourners, including the family's minister, led to the idea of a public march with music and costumes, and the Mardi Gras was born.

A host of independent krewes, with names ranging from Aphrodite to Zazu, Rex, Bacchus, Pegasus, Atlantis, and Saints quickly assumed their places in the storied event. A special reception at the Lake Wales Arts Center will showcase the early history of the event on Friday, February 2 from 6:00 to 9:00.

Today the many krewes of the Lake Wales Mardi Gras carry forward their own traditions, create themed floats and costumes, and generally please the large crowds of people who gather for the festivities. Several also host masquerade parties beginning weeks ahead of the main event and continuing through "Fat Tuesday," February 13.

Friendly krewe rivalries are also a part of the tradition that once led to the "kidnapping" of the inflatable Queen Shinola, figurehead of the Loyal Order of Wild Shiners, by the all-female "Wham-Bams." That latter krewe, absent for several years, is pledging to return for the 40th annual event.

Those interested in starting their own parade clubs are encouraged to apply at the official Mardi Gras Committee website.

"The coolest part about being in it is that you see all ages, the kids are super excited and so are the adults," Curchy added. "We'd obviously like that to linger a bit longer than the 45 minutes that the parade typically lasts."

Interested individuals and groups are invited to a committee meeting on Monday, November 13, or Monday the 27th at Beef O'Bradys in Lake Wales. Dues are $150 Fee for each krewe or other group wishing to parade.

Building a float is also an important step, although some krewes parade simply as marchers, presenting dances routines or zany "drill teams."

Most krewes also toss the ever-popular souvenir "throws" during the parade, which might be strands of beads, stamped doubloons, frisbees, or other collectibles.

A free two-day music festival accompanies the event, with a full line-up of bands performing on a stage erected in Lake Wailes Park beginning at 6:00 pm Friday, the same hour a Mardi Gras 5K "Glow Run" will take place along the shores of the lake.

The entire event is also a significant fundraiser, benefiting multiple charities around the area. "In the last eight years we've given away about $80,000 to various deserving non-profit organizations," Curchy said.

Major sponsors for the 2024 event are already lining up, and include Mahalak Auto Group, Duke Energy, Weikert Ford, Forni Dental, South State Bank, and Iceberg Home Services.

Other sponsors, including the City of Lake Wales, Action Signs, Visit Central Florida, Curchy Design, Bernie Little Distributors, Ridgeview Mortgage, Original Ink, and Erin Floyd Coldwell Banker, also help to support the event and its charities.

Details and event schedules will be featured in future stories in as details are confirmed, so check back.


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