Throngs of live-music lovers descended upon the much anticipated “Sounds of Mardi Gras” festival in Fresno, California. We were almost giddy to attend this always fun and entertaining festival in person. This was the first festival we could safely attend since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic because the festival organizers created a “bubble” where everyone attending was safe.
All attendees were required to either be vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID within 72 hours of the festival. If we forgot our proof of vaccination or COVID-negative certificate, an Abbot BinaxNOW COVID test was available to make sure everyone attending was negative for the virus. We were not required to wear masks in the hotel, but we gladly wore our Mardi Gras masks.
Every festival in America is struggling with the procedures required to get permission to hold an event. The Doubletree by Hilton in downtown Fresno gave the festival organizers permission just eight weeks before the start date. Linda Shipp’s team quickly secured multiple sponsors for every band. But most importantly, the large-donation “Festival Sponsors” donated in unprecedented numbers. From the Festival Committee members to the attendees, everyone was touched by the outpouring of support.
Many of us had our clothes hung out ready to go into the suitcase weeks in advance. We were just waiting for the date and the go-ahead. We had it easy! How did a group of volunteers get the band contracts signed, announce the event, call the rest of the volunteers, email the potential sponsors and attendees, update the website, order the dance floors and pianos, unpack the boxes and boxes of decorations, create the band schedule, and print the program in just eight weeks? It required Linda and Alfredo working nonstop, plus a great team that can really get things done in record time, and they all did a fantastic job.
While we were told it was hot outside, and we could see that it was hot on the dance floor, it was cool and comfortable throughout the festival. New decorations straight from New Orleans decorated the walls. The Fresno festival is known for fun, decorations, dancing and great music. It is hard to describe the uplifting feeling this festival always brings, but being the first festival after the “lock down” made our weekend even more special.
Tom Rigney started his first set by saying, “People! People! There are real people out there!” All the bands played enthusiastically to a live, much-missed, and appreciative audience.
The always excellent returning bands were Bob Schultz Frisco Jazz Band, Dave and the Hot House Gang, Sierra Seven, Yosemite Jazz Band, Tom Rigney and Flambeau, Gator Nation, Gino and the Lone Gunmen, and crooner Josh Bravo. New bands who proved to be stellar musicians were Captain John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm, Bad Boys of Zydeco, and the Big Butter Jazz Band. John Royen (a ragtime, stride, and jazz pianist) wowed the crowd with his New Orleans jazz band.
So this July, instead of crowning a new king and queen of Mardi Gras who would only get to wear their crowns for seven months, John and Linda Shorb’s reign was extended until next February. This July we announced the 2022 King and Queen, Marti Schwartz and Cass Cacciatore and honored the previous Kings and Queens.
The audience always enjoys the three different parades that wander through the venues on Friday and Saturday. The highlight of the weekend was the 1940’s Hollywood Glamour parade. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught glimpses of Eva, Zsa Zsa, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, and of course Audrey Hepburn. The masquerade parade featured Snow White and her family and many other original costumes. Everyone enjoyed the Mardi Gras energy of the many marchers in the parasol parade.
The Friday night dance theme was a three-set “High School Reunion”. The Saturday evening Mardi Gras party featured Tom Rigney and Flambeau teaming up with the high-energy Gator Nation for a double band set. In another venue was the West Coast Swing Party, with dance instructor Peter Netzley followed by the after-hours pizza party.
What made this festival great? Was it the enthusiastic attendees who fed off the high-energy bands? Was it the former kings and queens who brought back fond memories? What about the wonderful Mardi Gras decorations that made you smile every place you looked? Was it seeing people who we have not seen in sixteen months?!! Whatever it was, Linda Shipp and the committee, all the volunteers, and the generous sponsors pulled together another great “Sounds of Mardi Gras” festival.