Those most familiar with Mardi Gras will tell you that the celebration’s meaning has little to do with alcohol, beads, and floats.
Those are window dressings to an event whose declared motive is to give neighbors an excuse to gather outside — despite the weather — and hang out.
“People are getting what this is about: It’s a celebration of people being together.”
“Early on, when I saw my first crawfish boil in Oak Cliff, I said, ‘Yes,’ “ Oak Cliff Mardi Gras founder Amy Wallace Cowan said. “People are getting what this is about: It’s a celebration of people being together.”
Oak Cliff’s Fat Tuesday parade was the result of a successful election-night street party in Oak Cliff, thrown by Cowan.
Of course, attendees asked, “What’s next?”
Cowan’s answer: Well, you know.
Wallace founded North Texas’ Mardi Gras parade in 2009 when she felt the Mardi Gras she grew to love (her family hails from northern Louisiana) would benefit her new neighborhood, the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff.
MORE THAN ONE PARADE IN TOWN
Dallas is no stranger to parades.
There’s the annual Dallas Children’s Health Holiday Parade, which draws about 400,000 people, and is billed as one of the largest Christmas parades in the nation.
The Dallas St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Festival, sponsored by the Dallas Mavericks, draws more than 125,000 people, more than 90 floats and lasts more than 10 hours. At some stretches along the 2-mile parade route along Greenville Avenue in East Dallas, the crowd is decidedly raucous and adult.
Numerous other Dallas neighborhood parades during the year –- including the Lakewood 4th of July parade –- commonly include marchers or float riders tossing heaps of candy toward scrambling children.
NEARLY A DECADE OF TRADITION
Oak Cliff’s Mardi Gras parade, in its eighth year, remains decidedly homespun, ultra-local, and family-centric.
Cowan has capped the number of floats at 50; attendance is roughly 10,000 and growing, and about 2,000 participants are in the parade, from podiatrists to off-beat bicyclists to neighborhood characters dressed up in all manner (minus nudity, lewdness or obscenity).
In keeping with traditional Mardi Gras parades, beads –- not candy –- are tossed from floats.
” … we’re inviting you to turn off the social media, and to walk out the door, and to have a conversation with thousands of your closest friends.”
“It’s family-friendly, but it’s everything Oak Cliff represents,” said Edwin Cabaniss, owner of The Kessler Theater, which sponsors the Winnetka Heights neighborhood float in the Mardi Gras parade. “They see people who don’t look exactly like them, but they’re friendly and welcoming, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for people to learn about us. It’s getting more people from a larger population of Dallas to understand who we are.”
Cabaniss said when the Oak Cliff Mardi Gras parade started nearly 10 years ago, the Dallas community at large held a negative perception of Oak Cliff. The parade and other efforts have helped to turn the public perception, he added.
“In this world, where civil discourse is horrible, we’re inviting you to turn off the social media, and to walk out the door, and to have a conversation with thousands of your closest friends,” he said. “When we started, there were more people walking in the parade than watching. We get along down here, and it’s nice to share that with people.”
IF YOU GO
Oak Cliff Mardi Gras Parade:
WHERE: W. Davis Street in the Bishop Arts District, Oak Cliff
WHEN: Parade steps off at 4 p.m., Feb. 26
OCarnivale Masquerade Ball:
WHERE: The Kessler Theater, 1230 W. Davis St., Dallas, TX 75208
When: 7 p.m., Feb. 24
COST: General admission (21 and up), $50
TICKETS: Available here on the organization website.
For more information, visit the Mardi Gra Oak Cliff Parade website.
Delivering what’s new and next in Dallas-Fort Worth innovation, every day. Get the Dallas Innovates e-newsletter.