Fayetteville, Eureka Springs ready for Mardi Gras

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 93 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — New Orleans may be more than 600 miles to the south, but the fun-loving culture – with its rich traditions, music and decadent food – has a heavy influence in Northwest Arkansas.

With the approach of Fat Tuesday on Feb. 21, enthusiasts across the region are gearing up to celebrate ‘Nawlins style, with no shortage of purple, green and gold.

Fayetteville’s Mardi Gras celebration started as a pub crawl 21 years ago and has grown into a multi-day affair, highlighted by jaw-dropping floats and costumes in the family-friendly Parade of Fools. The parade rolls from the Fayetteville Square to Dickson Street and eventually the Walton Arts Center on the Saturday before Fat Tuesday.

On the big day, the event’s founding krewe, The Demented Krewe of Dickson, crowns a new king and queen, followed by a Second Line foot parade on Dickson Street.

An hour away in Eureka Springs, the Eureka Gras celebration is a flurry of formal and informal events with enough foot-stomping, umbrella-pumpin’ and partying to rival carnival in the Crescent City.

Organizer Dan Ellis, a Louisiana native, has dubbed Eureka Gras “a true New Orleans Mardi Gras.” The home krewe is the Krewe of Krazo (Ozark spelled backward).

Eureka Gras, now in its seventh year, started much like the Fayetteville tradition of Mardi Gras.

“In 2006 we had a ball and a (pub) crawl, and now our events span the months of January and February,” Ellis said.

Unlike the Fayetteville affair, a Mardi Gras king and queen are announced ahead of time. At a kickoff even in early January, Scott Smith was named King Krazo VII, and Mary Popvac was named Queen Eureka VII. Smith is a photographer, graphic artist and publications producer at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. Popvac is a loan assistant at Cornerstone Bank in Eureka Springs. The king and queen are supported by a cast of dukes and duchesses, whom Ellis refers to as the royal court.

The main events include the Hookers and Jokers Ball, a flamboyant gala with live music and an over-the-top costume contest, and the Coronation Ball, a formal affair in which the previous king and queen pass their crowns to their successors. Everything about the ball is orchestrated, from the royal court’s introductory promenade to the champagne toast to the new king and queen. In addition, hundreds of residents and tourists line the streets of downtown Eureka Springs for a parade on the Saturday before Fat Tuesday.

Umbrella-decorating parties, a night parade, a jazz brunch, art displays and other events complete the Eureka Gras calendar. The partying doesn’t stop until the last jazz note is sounded on Fat Tuesday.

The theme for this year’s parades is “My-O-Mayan,” which pays homage to the 2012 Mayan prophecy of the end of the world. If the apocalypse is indeed near, the Eurekans of the Krewe of Krazo certainly know how to enjoy life until the bitter end.