Shaffer: Mardi Gras made sweeter with Oakwood’s own

jshaffer@newsobserver.comMarch 2, 2014 

— The band came strolling down Pell Street in their purple derbies and winged top hats, blowing horns and banging drums, shirts stained with gumbo and bellies full of beer.

For the fourth straight year, the Oakwood Second Line led its neighbors in a trombone-honking, banjo-plinking Samedi Gras parade – a celebration styled after its New Orleans cousin, but held on Saturday for working-Joe purposes.

Count three clarinets, three trumpets, three saxophones and an accordion – plus baton twirlers, The Awesomettes, in tasseled boots. The ashes of a departed neighborhood musician are even stowed inside the bass drum.

“You see the poof every time you hit it,” said drummer Tim Bradley. “Poof! Poof!”

As far as anybody knows, this is the Triangle’s only neighborhood marching band, a group cobbled together mostly with instruments rescued from attics and chops gone cold since high school – a loose assembly that is part Mardi Gras mimicry, part neighborhood watch, part “Gong Show” audition.

You might see the Second Line on Sunday afternoon, lumbering through “Just A Closer Walk with Thee” in an Elm Street backyard and sharing a community 12-pack.

But on Saturday, the band loaded up beads and tramped through Oakwood behind a life-sized cow on wheels, urging excess in all forms in the last hours before Lent. During the march, neighbor Billy Brewer earned a crown as King Leonidas IV, a traditional Samedi Gras honor.

“Why does Oakwood deserve a king when other neighborhoods have only a chairman of the community watch?” asked Matthew Brown, trombone player and Oakwood Second Line original. “Because we are different! We have always been different! When people in other neighborhoods sit in front of their televisions and watch reality shows, we make our own reality show! And we deserve a king!”

One of Raleigh’s oldest neighborhoods, and heavy favorite in the running for its quirkiest, Oakwood launched its marching band at the last request of Margot Corrigan. She sang with the Oakwood Waits, the neighborhood carolers who perform in Dickensian costume, and she requested a stylish exit when cancer took her in 2011.

“She wanted a jazz funeral,” Brown said. “That’s what she wanted.”

“Just a dear old friend,” said fellow trombonist Chris Crew. “And now some of her ashes are in the drum.”

Thus the Sister Margot Krewe was born, albeit humbly, in imitation of the New Orleans parade groups of the same name. The first Samedi Gras parade consisted of Jim Biddell on saxophone, accompanied by a pair of college students. But the second year drew more than a dozen players filing down Linden Avenue, and by the third year, the Oakwood Second Line had an official police escort.

I will disclose at this point my proud membership in this group, playing the trombone I bought from a Great Dane rescue group fundraiser in Texas. My down-the-street neighbor Tripp Carter plays the baritone horn, holding his sheet music in one hand while executing dance moves I am too embarrassed to attempt.

Come see us. We play around Christmas and the Fourth of July, and I hear they’re letting us in the St. Patrick’s Day parade this year. We play a mean “Danny Boy,” and we even sing. If you’re partial to sequined clothing and Yuengling, you might dust off that old high-school ax.

“We need a tuba player,” insisted John Thomas, one of our clarinetists. “In the worst way.”

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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