The 13th annual Venice Mardi Gras Parade steps off Saturday on Ocean Front Walk

By Justin Chapman

Photo by Edizen Stowell / VenicePaparazzi.com

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Costumes. Music. Beads!

Come Saturday, the spirit of N’awlins is alive on Venice Beach.

The 13th annual Venice Mardi Gras Parade begins at noon at Rose Avenue and Ocean Front Walk, where the Mud Bug Brass Band will lead parade-goers down the boardwalk to Windward Circle. After a pit stop at Danny’s Venice, the parade proceeds north again, ending at the Venice Bistro for an after party at 2 p.m. with music by the Gumbo Brothers.

The show goes on rain or shine, but if faced with severe weather will remain indoors at Venice Bistro from noon until conditions are safe to proceed, organizers said.

Created as a West Coast revival of the New Orleans tradition, parade participants arrive adorned in festive costumes, toss beads to spectators and generally have a great time for the sake of having a great time.

This year’s theme is “Lovelution,” a word combining “love” and “evolution” coined by singer and parade founder Jessica Long, who staged the first parade in 2002 in honor of her boyfriend’s Louisiana traditions (he’s a Gumbo Brother) and to lift people’s spirits in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

“A lot of our friends were really needing something uplifting to happen in their lives because everybody was so depressed and shut down,” Long said. “We basically decided to do something creative to get people moving. [The parade] gave them something to focus on and elicited some creative energies.”

Long’s idea began as a house party, with the first parade taking place in her neighborhood. As the event grew more popular, it moved to the beach. While the parade remains an informal happening without official city permits (which means no floats, bikes or dogs allowed), participants aren’t doing anything illegal as long as the procession keeps moving.

“The beauty of the parade is it’s spontaneous on many levels. A lot of people don’t know what it is, but it’s really fun and exciting and everybody smiles and yells and cheers and throws beads, and it lights up every face,” Long said. “I wanted to create an opportunity for people to be artistic and express themselves, and there’s no better way to do that than on a parade route in a costume, celebrating the environment of Venice.”

In keeping with New Orleans tradition, the Venice Mardi Gras Parade honors a king and queen. This year’s local parade royalty are Venice residents Todd and Theo von Hoffman, who are being celebrated for their contributions to the community.

“We’re very flattered and slightly embarrassed, and ready to serve our beloved fellow Venetians with benevolence and fun and foolishness,” said Todd von Hoffman, who helped spearhead the movement to restore the Venice sign that now hangs over Windward Avenue.

“You’ve got people coming here from all over the world and they see locals getting together for a great time. Everyone gets a kick out of it. It’s going to be a ball,” he said. “The motivation and the joy of seeing people participating in things like the Mardi Gras is that it honors [Venice’s] founder, Abbot Kinney. We believe and hope that he smiles on our efforts.”

Todd von Hoffman also worked to found the Venice Heritage Foundation and currently sits on its board of directors, who are planning the creation of a Venice history museum. He was also involved in Venice’s 2005 centennial celebrations, reviving the 1913-14 minor league baseball team name Venice Tigers for a softball game.

Not only is the parade free and open to the public, it’s a relatively family-friendly event, Long said.

“People think, ‘Oh, it’s a Mardi Gras event, there’s going to be a bunch of girls showing their boobs.’ It’s not that,” said Long. “Although that may happen. It is Venice … but [the parade] doesn’t tend to be like that.”

Also in the Mardi Gras tradition, many different floats and processions are represented by various “krewes.” Long and her friends created the “Krewe of Grand View.” The von Hoffmans formed the “Most Serene and Royal Majesty, the Windward Krewe,” after buying 22 purple tuxedo tails from a movie prop house that was going out of business.

“The parade is an opportunity to be goodwill ambassadors and say, ‘Here we are, we’re loving life,” Long said.

The Venice Mardi Gras Parade steps off at noon from where Rose Avenue meets Ocean Front Walk, continues along the boardwalk to Windward Avenue and loops Windward Circle before a pause for refreshments at Danny’s Venice, 23 Windward Ave. After the break, the parade heads north again to Venice Bistro, 323 Ocean Front Walk, for an after party from 2 to 4 p.m. that includes a concert by the Gumbo Brothers.