By Josh Premako, 2/23/2012
Fat Tuesday rolled into Southern California a few days early, as the Los Angeles Farmers Market hosted its annual Mardi Gras celebration last weekend.
Under clear skies Saturday, a roving Dixieland-style jazz band kept diners and shoppers entertained, a group of smiling women handed out a boatload of bead necklaces, a zydeco band got dancers on their feet and pet owners brought out dogs dressed to impress for the “Mutti Gras” parade and costume contest.
“People love it. It’s such a hit,” said Ilysha Buss, marketing director for the market. “It’s nice because it’s a family friendly Mardi Gras celebration. Everyone can enjoy it.”
Mardi Gras Day, or Fat Tuesday, has become one of the defining characteristics of New Orleans, typically marked by parades, garish costumes and overall indulgence. Celebrated Feb. 21, it marks the end of Carnival season, the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent in the lead-up to Easter.
It likely comes as no surprise that the market’s Mardi Gras festivities started at the Gumbo Pot, a popular Cajun restaurant at the market. The restaurant started celebrating 23 years ago, Buss said, and added it became a market-sponsored event four years ago.
The dining area outside the Gumbo Pot was home base Saturday afternoon for a group of several local women who said they’ve been attending Mardi Gras weekends for several years.
Decked out in colorful clothes, hats and beads, the group stocks up on 2,000 or so bead necklaces to hand out, Denetia Arellanes said.
While most people walking around the market Saturday were not dressed in Mardi Gras attire, the dogs who took the stage for Mutti Gras certainly were, decked out in everything from jester outfits to fairy wings — and one rabbit in a tortoise costume.
The contest never fails to draw an excited crowd, said jester-costumed Gerry Katzman, who’s hosted for several years.
That was seconded by Rocky Keever, owner of the market’s Three Dog Bakery, who said the contest draws about 50 dogs and a great crowd. Keever’s shop helps host the parade and contest. Saturday was also a chance for him to spotlight the bakery’s “dog for dog” treats.
Similar to the model used by Toms Shoes, for every treat sold, Three Dog Bakery provides one to a dog in need, partnering with shelters and nonprofit organizations.
As afternoon shoppers made their way back and forth, a small crowd gather under the market’s iconic clock tower as David Sousa and his band, Zydeco Mudbugs, took the stage, blasting out a melodic blend of accordion-driven, Cajun-fried dance music.
Summing up the appeal of zydeco, Sousa said, “I used to be a rocker, but I like to dance, too.”