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Lake Wales Mardi Gras Events Begin This Week, Expected to Draw 20,000

Annual Event Helps Fund Local Charities

The biggest outburst of fun and frivolity in the region, the Lake Wales Mardi Gras is preparing to offer its 40th year of festivities to residents and visitors from far and wide. The event draws an estimated 20,000 to the two-and-half-weeks of activities.

Highlighted by a zany parade and two-day music festival, the celebration also features three masquerade dance parties offering live music, and a special "Mardi Gras Pre-Party" that will celebrate the 40 years of event history at the Lake Wales Arts Center. That party will feature live music and veterans of the first event who will be present to share their memories.

Loosely following some of the other pre-Lenten carnival observances around the world, the local event draws not-too-heavily upon New Orleans traditions, with some 20 "krewes" offering their own interpretations in the combined parade through the city. Crowds gather to collect some of the estimated 100,000 strands of beads and other collectible items tossed from passing floats.

Featuring names from Greek mythology, literature, or just wild imaginings results in krewes named Aphrodite, Pegasus, Rex, Renaissance, and Grand Cru, along with Shakers, Kaos, Kool, Rebbew, ZaZu, YaYa, Wild Shiners, Wizard of Al, Wham Bams, and more.

Each krewe develops its own themes, colors, costumes, floats, and events. Many come from distant points to join in the celebrations here, placing the Lake Wales Mardi Gras among the largest in the nation.

The first Mardi Gras party will be hosted by the Krewe Renaissance this Saturday, Jan. 27, featuring music by the well-known area blues band, The Plank Spankers, where they will premiere a new Lake Wales Mardi Gras theme song written by Dr. Jeff Reddout. For advance tickets call 863-632-1504.

Other activities include a spaghetti dinner fundraiser, a 5K "Glow Run," and a jeep-decorating contest. A full schedule of activities is included in the story, below.

Krewe parties will be hosted by the Loyal Order of Wild Shiners (yes, like the bait fish) on Feb. 3, and the Krewe of Pegasus on Feb. 13, "Fat Tuesday." The season concludes that night, before the Ash Wednesday beginning of Lent.

The local traditions date back to 1984, when restauranteur Vinton E. Davis, founder of Vinton's New Orleans restaurant in the downtown Arcade, was denied his long-time wish for a traditional New Orleans-style funeral with a Dixieland jazz band to escort him to the cemetery.

At his wake, family, friends, and the pastor of his church conspired to help make his wish come true, recruiting the local Al's Place jazz band and creating traditional "second line" costumes to parade through the downtown streets before a crowd of about a thousand. A single masquerade ball saw the coronation of the first "Prince of Wailes."

By the following year more than a dozen krewes had formed, and the parade drew more than 10,000 spectators. Most events are free and open to the public, with sponsors providing funding for the music festival.

The event also benefits a number of local causes. Last year the committee donated $26,000 to area charitable organizations.

For more information check out the official Lake Wales Mardi Gras website.


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