The streets of Biloxi will host one instead of three Mardi Gras parades this year, but organizers with Gulf Coast Carnival Association say that the 1 p.m. parade on Tuesday, Feb. 28 will be just as large as those of past years.
“We’ve had a very positive response,” said Captain of Carnival Jerry Munro. “Last year, our day parade had 87 units and our night parade had 47, and we feel that we’ll have between 60 and 80 units for the parade this year. They didn’t let Camille derail Mardi Gras when that storm struck back in 1969, and we didn’t want to let Katrina do it, either.”
Gulf Coast Carnival — which in 98 years has seen its Mardi Gras celebrations sidestepped only in times of world war or in the Depression era — is still accepting entries for this year’s parade. Floats have a $50 entry fee, and those displaying names of sponsors face a $300 fee. (Details: 432-8806 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
Although a parade will roll, Gulf Coast Carnival has scaled-back other carnival traditions. No royalty will reign this year, and in place of a Coronation Ball, which had typically been held at the Coast Coliseum, a sponsors party will be held on Lundi Gras, Monday, Feb. 27 at IP Casino and Hotel. Sponsorship info is available by calling 432-8806 or e-mailing email@example.com.
As difficult as it was, Munro said, he and other carnival leaders – Lieutenant of Carnival Gavin Schmidt, Ball Chairman Robbie Schmidt and Parade Chairman Bill Holmes – began thinking about Mardi Gras weeks after Katrina struck on Aug. 28. This year’s carnival; theme, which was decided in October: “Still Standing, Still Shining.”
“The toughest thing for us as an organization to think about in the wake of the storm,” Munro said, “was that four months from then, in late February, people’s mindset was going to change, and we should at the very least have a plan in place to observe Mardi Gras. As I said then, I think people are going to appreciate the fact that we did come up with a plan and that we’re going to have a parade on Feb. 28.”
Biloxi typically hosts three parades on Mardi Gras Day – with Gulf Coast Carnival sponsoring morning and evening parades and the Krewe of Neptune rolling an afternoon parade. This year, Neptune will have between three and five floats rolling with the GCCA 1 p.m. parade, which will use the same route as previous Mardi Gras parades.
Munro said as many as 16 of the 22 Coast Carnival-owned floats will be restored in time for the parade, thanks to the handiwork of longtime float designer Doug Blom of Biloxi. Nine of 16 floats had to be rebuilt after the carnival association’s den was heavily damaged in Hurricane Katrina.
Munro also said he expected the parade to include entries from the Shriners, Ole Biloxi Marching Club and Dixie Dazzlers marchers, and that he was pleased with the support of the business community, which pays sponsorship fees to help underwrite Mardi Gras.
“Normally, at this point we have between 275 and 290 paid sponsors,” Munro said. “And right now we have 212 paid sponsors, so that’s a good indication of the support we’re seeing. And, by all means, people can still sign up to be a sponsor.
“I think a lot of people are looking forward to celebrating Mardi Gras and seeing children on the sides of the road catching beads.”