One often associates the celebration of Mardi Gras with drunken debauchery, an excuse to dress in outlandish costumes, parade in the streets and toss strands of shiny cheap plastic beads by the hundreds into a crowd. The town of Red River, however, has adopted its own version of the event in hopes that they can evoke a community-building spirit and make it a family-friendly gathering.
Director of the Red River Chamber of Commerce Danielle Hollier and her family moved from Louisiana to the alpine hamlet after her husband accepted a position with Chevron. She said she fell in love with the town because of the community.
Although the six-day “Mardi Gras in the Mountains” from Feb. 8-13 doesn’t compare in crowd numbers to the Louisiana Mardi Gras she’s familiar with, it certainly surpasses it in spirit. After her family celebrated their first event, her 5-year-old daughter Aubrey exclaimed: “We get to have Mardi Gras in the mountains,Mom!”
The annual celebration has been rolling strong for 27 years. Fritz Davis, the editor and publisher of The Red River Miner and member of the town’s historical society, said the idea came to Red River in 1991 from resident Wally Dobbs, a bartender at Chubby’s, one of the local taverns.
He met a group of Louisianans celebrating Mardi Gras with the traditional beads and festivities. Dobbs thought it looked like the revelers were having fun, so why not start the tradition in Red River? The next year, the tradition began with Louisiana musicians and performers recruited for authenticity. Over the years, the event has gained traction with growing attendance numbers and more events.
Davis said, “This isn’t just about attracting tourists. It’s about getting them to have fun and sharing the good fortune we have here in Red River.”
He added, “The people here have a spirit of doing it. Every year the same kind of people stay here, and the same kind go. You either get it, or you don’t. We have a quality of life you can’t find in many places.”
Davis, a theater and music major who started visiting the town in 1978, said he sets free his alter ego, “Fritti Fonteneau,” for six crazy days, wearing different costumes every day and changing his beads in shifts … sometimes three times a day because he has so many from the previous 27 years of celebrating.
Davis said the folks in Louisiana are kindred spirits with Red River people. “They understand life is short, enjoy it while you can,” he said.
People come from all over the United States to celebrate in Red River. “New York, Ohio, Michigan and Oregon. Lately we’ve seen a lot of Nevada license plates as well.” Davis added, “After Katrina hit New Orleans, people from Louisiana came here to celebrate. When they were here they could forget about the devastation.”
The week is packed with costume balls, bead tossing, singing and dancing, Cajun and Creole gourmet delights, parades, a kids’ costume contest, crawfish boils and a downhill gator race. All total, 50 to 55 events are scheduled over six days.
The chamber of commerce is providing pencils and paper for those who wish to write down their worries and wishes to burn with the Loup-garu, the festival’s mascot. The chamber also intends to sell beads and T-shirts. This year the town is also hosting a cajun band from Louisiana.
Madeline Loftin, assistant director for the chamber, said she and her husband started on a “krewe,” traditionally, a group of people who host an event or organize a float, as a way of meeting people. Her first impressions were that “it was astounding, all the costumes and masks. Some people put on a new costume every night for six nights; for a small town this event is remarkable.”
Loftin said that many people who have experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where the celebration occurs over the course of a few weekends, contrast it to Red River’s, which runs six days in a row. “Our celebration is much more intense.”
She advises people who plan to attend to get lodging early as it gets busy and space is limited. “It’s important to dress for the weather,” she continued. Nevertheless, encourages costumed-clad decadence.
In addition to the Mardi Gras celebration, the Red River Ski Area plays host to many of the festival’s events. The area has six lifts, and 20 runs open, including two terrain parks. After working up an appetite after a day of skiing, Loftin said, you could join in the evening festivities, eat some cajun cooking and listen to some good live music. It’s a safe, fun, family event and a sure cure for cabin fever and the mid-winter blues.
For a full schedule, visit redriverchamber.org/mardi-gras-in-the-mountains or call the Red River Chamber of Commerce at (575) 754-2366 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.