Free Durham Mardis Gras kickoff party Saturday

01/21/2014 12:00 AM

01/20/2014 12:47 PM

Kathy Violette’s title with the Durham Mardis Gras is treasurer, but she calls herself the glue that helps hold things together.

So it fit Saturday that “the glue” sat among the tape, sparkles and sequins at The Scrap Exchange, where organizers held a “Make and Take” to help people get ready for Fat Tuesday in the Bull City.

Mardis Gras celebrates the tradition of eating rich foods the night before Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. In North America, the French-Catholic observance dates to 1699.

In Durham, the current iteration of Mardis Gras is entering its fourth year, with plans for the biggest celebration yet. Organizers are incorporating as a nonprofit, have launched an online fundraising campaign to pay for police and performers and hope to turn the downtown parade into a robust, annual tradition that someday rivals happenings like the Parkwood Christmas parade, Violette said.

The Mardis Gras parade takes place March 4. But a free kickoff party happens Saturday night at The Pinhook on Main Street downtown. There will be music, dancing, and if the weather holds, fire artists out back.

“Dressing up and marching in a parade is a great way to build connection and community,” said Cathy Kielar in an email. Kielar is one of about a dozen organizers planning the free events. “So far, we have a high school marching drum line, a New Orleans style marching band, neighborhood church, band, and business krewes ... and we want more krewes.”

Krewes are groups that help sponsor the Fat Tuesday celebration, organizing floats and paying for beads and other trinkets to throw at spectators. If you’re interested in forming a krewe, go to

More than 500 people paraded in downtown Durham last year, Violette said. Six bands played on two stages, and organizers are shooting for eight on four stages for the March 4 celebration.

Hometown favorites the Hillside Marching Hornets and Bulltown Strutters will bring their respective funk. Organizers also hope an indiegogo campaign ( raises enough to possibly hire Leigh “Lil’ Queenie” Harris, a performer who has appeared on HBO’s “Treme” series and who moved to Rural Hall, N.C., outside Winston-Salem after Hurricane Katrina.

Of course, the Strutters don’t need a paycheck to party.

“We’ll play anywhere,” said Violette, who plays alto-sax in the street parade band. “We’ll play for beer.”

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