Mardi Gras organizers hope for big crowds of revelers over the next two weeks to help rejuvenate Galveston and show people that the island is, in fact, still there. "It's going to be a bigger and better event this year as compared to last year," RoShelle Gaskins, spokesperson for the visitors bureau, tells Hair Balls.
The hard work and tenacity of the Mardi Gras krewes makes this possible, she said, even after Ike. The festival is free, once again, this year.
"All of the parade krewes are having their parades," Paul Rodgers, Parade Captain of Z Krewe, said. "It is just something that you have to do." Most krewe members live on the island, but despite damages to their homes and other personal losses they suffered from Ike, all the krewes are adamant about having a strong Mardi Gras this year.
John Listowski, Parade Captain of the Knights of Momus, is living out of a motor home in his front yard, because 57 inches of water flooded his living room. This hasn't stopped him from participating with his krewe. "If I make a commitment to something, I have to do it," he said.
The Knights of Momus will take the streets Saturday, February 21 with 28 floats and 17 bands throwing around $2,800 worth of beads every block. They've painted on one of their floats the words "Despite Ike Momus is Back." Despite having to repair damages due to flooding in the warehouses where they stored their floats, they've added several floats to their parade this year.
Tourism is a vital to getting Galveston back on its feet. A huge benefit of Mardi Gras, Gaskins said, is revelers will spread the word that the island is as alive and exciting as ever. People will be surprised that the island looks practically the same as pre-Ike in some areas, she said.
"The island is not dead," Rodgers said. "I think a lot of people think that the island is devastated and don't want to come down [here] because they think there is nothing to do."
He and the rest of the krewes will be out throwing beads every night through Fat Tuesday. The krewes worked together more than ever before this year, inviting each other to all of their events. Z Krewe invited all of the krewes to join them 1 p.m. Saturday, February 21 to march in their parade.
After Ike, what residents are looking for is normal, he said, and a big part of that normalcy is having Mardi Gras. "It should be crazy," he said. "It should be fun. You should have all of your friends together. I don't think a hurricane should stop that party."
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This year organizers have added downtown entertainment to bolster the area since only 25 percent of the stores are open post-Ike. (Downtown is not one of the areas that "look the same.") The carnival has been extended from the sea wall to the Strand and bands will be playing downtown. Additionally, many food and beverage vendors will setup shop downtown to the fill the void left by closed restaurants.
"We are trying to support the Stand merchants as much as possible," Rodgers said. "I think they were some of the hardest hit [of the store owners] on the island."
"Galveston needs this," Listowski said. "We bring a lot of people into town. We have parties all year and we spend lots of money here in town."
-- Thomas Rundle