Kentwood revels in Carnival

Advocate photo by SAM IRWIN -- The Southern University Marching Band turns the corner onto La. 51 during Saturday's Kentwood Mardi Gras Parade. Show caption
Advocate photo by SAM IRWIN -- The Southern University Marching Band turns the corner onto La. 51 during Saturday's Kentwood Mardi Gras Parade.

Country town Mardi Gras celebrations such as Kentwood’s are smaller than their city cousins in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, but if it looks like Mardi Gras, smells like Mardi Gras and sounds like Mardi Gras, then it’s Carnival time.

Kentwood celebrated its third Carnival season Saturday with a parade that featured the Southern University Marching Band, a street fair, live music and food and craft vendors.

The event was produced by the North Tangi Support Group.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, and his wife Donna reigned over the festivities as the King and Queen of the Mardi Gras.

“It’s the first time we’ve been royalty,” Edwards said from his royal chariot, an orange 1957 Chevrolet convertible. “This (Mardi Gras) has been great for the north end of the parish. We’re very proud of what they’re doing here.”

Edwards said he was hopeful the celebration could ultimately serve as a replacement for the old Dairy Day event which died out as the area dairy industry dwindled.

“I hope Kentwood will be able to bring in folks from Mississippi and the Florida Parishes for this event,” Edwards said.

Asthe crowd waited for the parade to start, timber trucks filled with logs and cattle transports rumbled down La. 51 to haul product to market. Current and visiting Kentwood natives largely ignored the traffic as they positioned themselves along La. 38 for a good view of the parade.

Groups such as the Back Roads Posse motorcycle club served as hosts for neighboring clubs while individuals including Earl and Ann Stinson, of Kentwood, were happy to keep each other company.

Earl Stinson, dressed in a leather vest decorated with numerous colorful pins, wore a red, white and blue bandanna in zany Mardi Gras fashion over his silver white hair. He claimed he wasn’t costumed in Mardi Gras regalia but wore a do-rag every day.

“We used to come to the old Dairy Day every year,” Stinson said. “It’s been gone for about 10 years, so we’re going to enjoy this Mardi Gras and then go to the Folsom Mardi Gras.”

Joey Dunaway, however, was in the Mardi Gras mood and wore a bright purple-and-gold wig to complement her traditionally-hued Carnival shirt and beads.

“Mardi Gras is a lot like Vegas,” she said. “What happens in Mardi Gras stays in Mardi Gras.”

Dunaway allowed that she didn’t think she would be too risqué at the Kentwood Mardi Gras, however.

A midway street fair was set up on Main Street, boasting a Ferris wheel along with food and craft vendors. All of the traditional festival food was served, including jambalaya, boiled crawfish and barbecued sausage on buns.

Rod Lee and his sideman Willie Imes were serving jambalaya cooked on-site.

“They asked us to come and cook just so folks would have some food choices,” Lee said. “We’re doing it for fun. Last year, we covered our costs and put $22 in our pocket.”

Novelty vendors such as Wanda Andre and Wendy Jackson, of Magnolia, Miss., follow the small-town celebrations almost every weekend.

“Mardi Gras is a busy season for us,” Andre said. “We’ll be going to Kaplan next weekend for their Mardi Gras.”

“We do this for fun and to meet people,” Jackson said. “Our season will end around Thanksgiving.”

But street vendor Pat Conway, of Alabama, pushed a shopping cart filled with trinkets and other gag items up and down the streets in hopes of earning a few dollars.

“I drove 850 miles from Alabama yesterday to get here,” Conway said. “It’s work.”

Still, Conway appeared to have a touch of Mardi Gras madness because he was crowned with a glittering Egyptian Pharaoh’s headdress.

Mooney Tillis parked his recreational vehicle on La. 51 and invited all to share his fried deer sausage as a man identified only as “Bolo” piloted his white bicycle festooned with Mardi Gras “jujus” along the parade route.

“This is a great day to get out, relax and share,” Tillis said. “We’ll go to the Hammond and Covington Mardi Gras, but on Fat Tuesday, we’ll park at the corner of Rampart and Orleans and watch the Zulu parade.”

The definite star of the Kentwood Mardi Gras parade was the Southern University Marching Band. The band, which is also known as the “Human Jukebox,” alternately high-stepped, strolled and jammed the entire parade route to brass band tunes including, “Do What You Wanna.”

When the band paused in front of the reviewing stand, second-liners rushed in and surrounded the band members as they danced, clapped and photographed the high-powered marching group.

Cleo Fields, of Baton Rouge, a former state senator and congressman, threw Mardi Gras beads to the crowd from the back seat of a convertible.

“It’s an absolute honor to serve as the parade marshal,” Fields said. “This is a great parade and it’s the second time we’ve been here and bring the Southern Marching Band.”

The festivities concluded Saturday at midnight.