Coming soon: Mardi Gras madness

From Staff ReportsFebruary 11, 2013 

Christine Westfall "chief eyelash curler," and Shyrone Evans, 8, take Lola the Mardi Gras dragon out for a walk on West Green Street last week before the Fat Tuesday parade.

MARK SCHULTZ — mschultz@newsobserver.com

Her name is Lola. She is a Mardi Gras dragon.

Last year, Lola snaked through the Durham Mardi Gras parade as a walking pun — a “drag-on” head followed by her krewe dressed in drag. On Tuesday, an upgraded Lola the Dragon and other home-grown krewes and revelers will return downtown for the family-friendly 2013 Durham Mardi Gras Parade and Celebration.

Parade participants should meet at 6:30 p.m. at CCB Plaza, 201 N. Corcoran St. The 7 p.m. sidewalk parade will end at Rigsbee Street near Motorco Music Hall and Fullsteam Brewery. Celebration and live music are scheduled at both venues.

Lola, named after The Kinks’ song about the drag queen, and her krewe are one example of Bull City residents embracing the Mardi Gras tradition and shaping it into their own. Mardi Gras has been celebrated for years across Durham, but last year the Durham Mardi Gras Group, a loose coalition, came together and organized a successful sidewalk parade led the by the Bulltown Strutters, a high-energy second-line community band, and last year’s Durham Mardi Gras king, Chuck Davis.

“It was one the best parties of the year,” said Christine Westfall, a Duke Park resident and Lola’s chief eyelash curler.

Westfall and members of the krewe associated with the Lola the Dragon, who has her own Facebook page, have been working to expand and upgrade her paper mache body so that about 10 kids will be able to guide her in Tuesday’s parade.

“This year she decided to be a kid’s float,” Westfall said.

Krewes that plan to participate Tuesday include Lola the Dragon, the Mystic Order of Socratic Monkeys, the Banished Fools, League of the Tutu, Krewe of Ariadne, Krewe of Camel Toes, The Great Big Heads, the Krewe de Bull, the Krewe de Castor, The Bull City Beer Runners and The Society of Sacred Bulls.

Meanwhile, the Durham Mardi Gras Group has selected Mel Melton to serve as the 2013 king of the celebration and Rhonda Robichaux as queen.

Robichaux, a New Orleans native and Triangle resident, leads the Rhonda Robichaux Band. Robichaux, who describes her music as swampy, sultry, spicy with a taste of New Orleans, has shared the stage with New Orleans artists George Porter Jr. and Charmaine Neville, and with Will McFarlane, who frequently plays in Durham, among others.

“I have to come all the way to Durham to become the queen of Mardi Gras,” Robichaux said.

Melton, a North Carolina native, owns the Cajun Durham eatery Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse, and is a member of Mel Melton and the Wicked Mojos, a blues band with a zydeco twist. Melton sings lead vocal and plays the harmonica and rub board.

After the parade Tuesday, Melton and the Wicked Mojos, Robichaux, the Bulltown Strutters, Atiba Rorie and Africa Unplugged, and Phatlynx will play at Motorco. Papa Mojo’s will also be serving dishes, such as gumbo and red beans and rice. The Haw River Rounders and the George Tisdale Band will play at Fullsteam.

Durham Mardi Gras events kicked off on Feb.1 as the Krewe of Ariadne collaborated with The Scrap Exchange to host The Ariadne Charity Masked Ball. The event benefited PORCH Durham, which supports the Backpack Buddies program that fills backpacks with food for needy children.

Some people associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans Bourbon Street and an intense party. However, various communities in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast consider Mardi Gras a family-friendly season to revel in a variety of parades and festivities.

When Melton lived in Louisiana he said his band played in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but preferred the Lafayette celebration, which centered on food, music and community.

“I think that is the opportunity,” Melton said about Durham Mardi Gras, “to build it into that kind of event.”

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