Karen Meredith said the time has come to throw a bigger Mardi Gras party than the bash her downtown bar and grill, Sweetwater, has hosted for the last five years.
“For a while now, Mardi Gras has been an event that I’ve done with the Vintage Jazz Society on the patio here at Sweetwater,” Meredith said. “A lot of the Main Street merchants have wanted to make it a bigger deal. I think the city got tired of hearing us talk about it.”
The result: Mardi Gras on Walnut, a free, family-friendly party on Friday night.
Meredith said the city saw an opportunity in having a local Mardi Gras party fanning out from the patio of Sweetwater Grill & Tavern: The event could give the city more information on the possibility of converting Walnut Street into a pedestrian strip, making it off-limits to vehicles.
“They told us, ‘Show us what you can do,’” Meredith said. “So this is a party and a dry run of possibly closing Walnut. As it is, Walnut is mostly our delivery alley.”
Mardi Gras is a party flowing with rich food, drink and spectacle to mark the end of Epiphany and the last hurrah before Lent, the Christian season of fasting, prayer and discipline leading up to Easter. South America and Europe celebrate Carnival, and the most famous North American observance is in New Orleans.
Sweetwater has been one of Denton’s most reliable downtown venues for live jazz, and the city isn’t hurting for Dixieland jazz.
“It’s always been a good event for Sweetwater,” Meredith said. “It’s always one of our biggest sales events.”
For Friday, more than a dozen booths will offer Denton Community Market shopping, face painting, mask-making and Cajun-style food, including boiled crawfish, etouffee, Louisiana meat pies, beignets and Mardi Gras-inspired ice cream sundaes. Beth Marie’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream & Soda Fountain will scoop ice cream bearing names such as King Cake, Bourbon Street and Wobbly Monkey.
Jugglers from the local group Juggling & Flow Arts, dancers and other street performers will add a unique Denton flair to the celebration. In cooperation with this event, select downtown businesses will extend their hours.
The Mardi Gras contests — masks, costumes and mini-wagon floats — are for adults and children. (Wagon floats are decorated, pullable wagons or carts no longer than 6 feet in length. Contestants should decorate in New Orleans style.)
Local businesses are supplying “krewes” — groups that participate in Mardi Gras and Carnival parades, usually in lavish costumes and floats.
Live Dixieland music starts up on the outdoor main stage at 7 p.m., in the center of Walnut Street, with Ron & the Rowdies, followed by Le Not So Hot Klub du Denton performing gypsy jazz, and Woody’s Rampage performing zydeco. The block will be open for dancing until 11 p.m.
Inside Sweetwater, at the corner of Walnut and Elm Street, Dixieland jazz will fire up at 6:30 p.m., with Strictly Dixie, Vintage Jazz Society and the Fat Tuesday Dixieland Jazz Jam.
Inside the Abbey Underground, at the corner of Walnut and Locust Street, the Boxcar Bandits take the stage at 10 p.m.
Ken Willis, co-owner of Beth Marie’s, said he thinks the party will go off without a hitch and will show both city officials and locals how beneficial it would be to turn Walnut Street in a sort of pedestrian promenade.
“There are so many things going on,” Willis said. “We’ve got Thin Line, Day of the Dead, Arts, Antiques & Autos. We could have stuff going on out here on Walnut, easy. And it could be good for the downtown businesses.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877
MARDI GRAS ON WALNUT
When: 5 to 11 p.m. Friday
Where: 100 block of Walnut Street, just south of the Square
Details: The free event is for all ages. Wristbands will be required to purchase alcohol. Walnut Street will be closed to vehicles. Free parking is available in the lot across Elm Street from Sweetwater Grill & Tavern. Proceeds benefit Music Theatre of Denton, a nonprofit volunteer theater organization.