Family Gras kicks off

6th annual festival draws crowds for day of music, fun

With her Miss Piggy nose secured to her face and a silver queen’s crown placed tightly atop her head, Nancy Allison leisurely walked around the neutral ground along Veterans Memorial Boulevard between Severn Avenue and Causeway Boulevard on Friday while waiting for Family Gras to kick off.

“This is our first time here,” said Allison, a resident of Lakeview since 2010. “My husband, Bill, read about Family Gras and it looked like something we would enjoy. So we got here early and set up our chairs for the whole day. It’s been great listening to the music, checking out the arts and crafts and enjoying the food. Today, I have my Mardi Gras outfit. And on Saturday, we will be back out, dressed for the day in our Saints and LSU attire.”

A variety of factors could not have worked out any better for the Sixth annual Family Gras celebration on Friday in Metairie. As the admission-free event continued from midafternoon to early evening, musicians were playing to growing crowds, the temperature remained cool and comfortable, area vendors were busy selling food, refreshments, arts and crafts, and kids were enjoying activities such as a rock climbing wall and bubble blast.

And a little more than a mile away, two parades, the Krewes of Excalibur and Atlas, were preparing to roll as riders boarded their floats and got ready to throw beads, cups and doubloons.

“I am so delighted with the turnout and number of people we are seeing out here,” said Violet Peters, chief executive officer and president of the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau, which oversees and organizes Family Gras. “Family Gras is a wonderful platform for us to showcase local music, food and local parades,’’she said. “Since there aren’t any parades in New Orleans this weekend because of the Super Bowl, we wanted to give visitors, as well as local residents, a chance to see and enjoy some of our Jefferson Parish parades as well as enjoy a lot of great food, music and arts and crafts.”

A free shuttle service running between two locations in the Central Business District and Metairie was provided for out-of-town visitors Friday. The shuttle will run again Saturday, beginning at 11:30 a.m., picking up passengers at the Hilton St. Charles, 333 St. Charles Ave., and Adventures in New Orleans, 414 Canal St.

“Depending on traffic, our goal is to have the shuttle service going back and forth from Metairie to downtown approximately every 30 to 40 minutes,” said Peters, adding that the last shuttle pick-up from downtown on Saturday will be at 6:30 p.m. and the last shuttle from Family Gras back downtown will be at 10 p.m.

“It was a no-brainer to plan this (shuttle service),” Peters said. “We have found that someone visiting this area and staying in Jefferson Parish will go to New Orleans to shop, tour the city and eat in local restaurants. So why not if you are staying New Orleans take a day trip to Jefferson Parish?”

In 2012, approximately 80,000 to 85,000 visitors attended the three-day Family Gras event. This year because of the Super Bowl on Sunday, Family Gras was condensed to two days — Friday and Saturday. But the shortened version doesn’t mean there is less of anything.

“Our stage is bigger, and we have about the same number of musicians and food vendors as in previous years,” Peters said. “And we hope to get close to, if not exceed, our turnout from last year.”

Several food vendors were selling everything from crawfish pasta, to red beans, crab cakes and alligator on a stick. And more than a dozen artists and crafters were selling such items as jewelry, tie-dyed T-shirts, local photos and folk art.

“I love coming to New Orleans, so I jump at every chance I get to make it down here,” said John Paul Daniel, of Kingston Springs, Tenn., and the artist behind Bebo Folk Art. “I always receive a lot of positive feedback from participating in Family Gras, so it is a blessing for me to be a part of this event. It’s a great atmosphere out here. People are happy, the food is great and the weather is just terrific. You can’t go wrong”

Family Gras opens at noon Saturday. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons will close out the event at 5:30 p.m. Other acts scheduled are Big Bad Voodoo Daddy from noon to 1 p.m.; Cowboy Mouth from 1:20 p.m. to 2:20 p.m.; ZZ Ward from 2:40 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.; and Blues Traveler from 3:50 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.

And the Krewe of Caesar will roll at 6 p.m.

“It is very exciting for us to have a multigenerational music group like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons,” Peters said. “One of our goals with Family Gras is to bring people together from all walks of life and from all generations to enjoy good food, music and fun. This event is a unique experience and isn’t that what Carnival is all about?”