The Bull City celebrated Mardi Gras Tuesday night with the help of The Bulltown Strutters, Hare Krishna chanters, brightly sequined stilt walkers, and a man carrying a censer to burn frankincense, all of whom helped lead the annual Durham Mardi Gras Parade.
A sea of beads, Hawaiian leis, masks and other ornaments crowded Rigsbee Avenue, where the parade traditionally ends. With the temperature in the 70s even into the early evening, this year’s parade had more participants. Informal estimates ranged from 500 to 1,000 revelers.
About an hour before the 7 p.m. kickoff, members of krewes – or groups that decorate floats, dress up and help put on the parade – were already gathering at CCB Plaza on Corcoran Street. Margo Scott, a member of the Aloha Krewe, was helping set up the group’s stand, complete with Hawaiian leis to hand out during the parade.
“We’re bringing the (warm) weather,” Scott said of the 15-member krewe. This year’s parade queen was Lori Glenn, a member of the Aloha Krewe. “We might be small, but we’ve got the queen,” Scott said.
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Members of the Society of the Sacred Bull were preparing candy and beads and showing off some improvements to their wooden float. Jeff Porter, Steve Fugikawa and his son Vann, 11, and Walt Barron pulled the float from East Campus to the square. This year, they put lights and a horn on the float. Their krewe has participated in every parade since 2013.
Six members of Imagine Circus were decked out in sequins, masks and bright costumes as they prepared to walk on stilts along the route, which went north on Foster Street, east on Corporation Street and finally ended at the end of Rigsbee Avenue and Geer Street. Imagine Circus also performs at parties and other events, said Katie Bouterse, a member of the troupe.
Steve Barrell was wearing a cape and beads, and carrying a censer in which he burned incense, a nod to the religious roots of Mardi Gras and Carnival. Mardi Gras is the last big celebration before Lent, a season of reflection and fasting, which begins today. In keeping with Mardi Gras tradition, Barrell said he had pancakes earlier in the day.
The Hillside Alumni Band was participating for the first time in the parade. They decked out a pickup truck as a float.
“Next year we want to get the entire alumni band to come out” and march, said Chantelle Williams, who plays flute in the band. “This was kind of last-minute for us,” Williams said.
The Alumni Band has about 30 members, and plays at Hillside homecoming and other events, said Douglas Morris, the “equipment man” for the band who was riding in the truck.
Held on the same night that President Trump was addressing Congress, and in a time of sharp divisions among the populace, this parade showed no outward acknowledgement of politics. Revelers and spectators who stood along the sidewalk praised the event for bringing people together.
“It’s fun,” said Christine Cotton, who was watching her second parade. “It’s a great thing,” she said. The participants “don’t mind acting crazy, or looking crazy. It’s a happy time.”
Matt Williamson, a Durham native, was seeing his first parade.
“I’m so proud of Durham,” Williamson said. “Part of what makes Durham unique is its great culture.”
And while Durham may not be the richest city, he said, it is “the funkiest.”
Stephanie Bethea and Roy Sampson were watching the parade. “I think Durham needs it,” Bethea said of the spirit of the parade. “It’s good to see the community come together to celebrate.”
Kenneth Robinson and his wife Janet Robinson had just returned from New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations, and were each wearing many beads as souvenirs. Janet Robinson said she enjoyed the parade but would like to see more high school bands, and perhaps some more food trucks.
During the history of the Durham Mardi Gras Parade, some rituals have developed. One of those is placing a tutu on Major the Bull, the bronze sculpture in CCB Plaza, before the parade takes off. Members of the League of the Tutu krewe work all year to design the costume. Mary Yorty, who leads those sessions, said the tutu has seen many changes and is “made by many hands.” Helping to put on the tutu this year were Judie Adams, Bambi Riggsbee and 2014 Beaver Queen Pageant winner Beaverina Ballerina, who on this night was performing as Alexandra.
As in years past, the Bulltown Strutters performed during the tutuing and led the parade.
At the end of the parade route, local bands played at several neighborhood restaurants, bars and venues. Among the bands scheduled to play were The Sunday Special, D-Town Brass, The Raleigh Rockers, Lakota John and others. The Bar Durham celebrated with a Mardi Gras drag show. Motorco Music Hall and Fullsteam Brewery also hosted bands and revelers.