Imagine you're at Mardi Gras.
It may be the smaller cousin of the annual blowout in New Orleans, but don't tell that to the 250,000 folks who cram onto Galveston Island each year for two weekends of festivities. If you didn't get an invitation to one of the private masked balls, you can still dress up -- jester hats with bells are apparently de rigueur -- and hang out at the entertainment district downtown for a modest entry fee, or catch the parades along the seawall and 25th Street for free.
This is important: The happiest folks of all during Mardi Gras are Galveston's tow-truck companies. To enjoy the six official parades, you've gotta get there early for a parking space. Nothing dampens the day like the frenzied look on Dad's face as he tries to find a space near the seawall when the parade's already under way and traffic is at a crawl. Getting there two or three hours before the parade and setting up a tailgate party on the prime spots on the seawall is the norm. If you're not tailgating, try parking on the side streets near the seawall or 25th -- especially during the grand finale, the Knights of Momus Grand Night Parade, which happens on Saturday, February 21. Another option is the $4 shuttle bus service (409-797-3900) from the Island Community Center parking lot. Or you can just chill and let the bons temps rouler while you search for a spot.
Taking a cue from Houston's Main Event concert organizers, the Mardi Gras planners don't have the most cutting-edge of bands. But on Saturday, February 14, the lineup is certainly harder-edged than in the past, with Cowboy Mouth, Smile Empty Soul and headliners Puddle of Mudd. Alien Ant Farm headlines Friday, February 20.
Of course, with this year's "rock and roll" theme, there'll be plenty of music for your dad to dig -- most notably Little Feat, Thin Lizzy and '60s British Invasion band Deep Purple (whose publicity photo makes the Rolling Stones look like kids) -- on the main stage Saturday, February 21.
After a misguided decision two years ago to put the main music stage at the cramped 21st Street and Strand location, organizers put it back at Saengerfest Park at 23rd, with the side stage returning to 21st Street, where it belongs.
If hanging out with the unwashed masses isn't your idea of a good time, you can drop $100 for the Krewe of Who? loft party on Saturday, February 14 (936-321-9933), or the Z Krewe Zestivals Saturday, February 14, and Saturday, February 21 (713-227-0910). That way you can drop beads from the balconies to the Janet wannabes waiting below.
And finally, this year's big news: Mardi Gras organizers have banned Silly String because of the messy stains it leaves on the concrete. We have no idea what they'll do if they catch you packing your uncle's whipped cream.