Mardi Gras comes early in Venice

By Brittany Ford

Jessica Long keeps the spirit of Mardi Gras
alive in Venice
Photo by David Zentz (

“We are all a part of a circus — it’s just the ringleader who changes,” posits Jessica Long, founder of the Venice Beach Mardi Gras Parade.

The annual revival of an Abbot Kinney-era nod to New Orleans party culture returns at noon on Saturday with a come one, come all costumed boardwalk parade from Rose Avenue to Windward Plaza followed by a dance party at Larry’s Venice.

Now in its 16th year, the celebration offers a chance to celebrate the uniqueness of Venice, to bring neighbors closer together and to have fun for fun’s sake. Leading the parade under this year’s “Cirque du L.A.” theme are the Mudbug Brass Band, hula squad KCB HoopGangsta and local neighborhood krewes who gather especially for the occasion. Local New Orleans funk band The Gumbo Brothers keeps the party going from 2 to 4 p.m.
at Larry’s.

Long says the Cirque theme is not just inspiration for costume ideas, it’s a call for anyone feeling like they are living in a circus to forget about any worries and have a good time. While the nation revels in its own political divides, Venice too can often feel divided between residents old and new and those on either end of the tech and real estate booms. Long hopes the parade will be a chance for Venetians of all stripes to cast those worries aside for a moment, be part of the community and feel like you own the street.

“The Venice Beach Mardi Gras Parade harkens back to the days when Venice was a more artist-rich and friendly local scene with a passion for sharing good vibes and spreading positive energy to strangers,” she says. “Now the parade is four times its original size and represents participants from all walks of life coming together in an undulating wave of colorful zany costumes, brass bands, smiles, cheers and beads.”

This year’s Venice Beach Mardi Gras King and Queen are Ravi and Toni Kristin, who moved to Venice in 1974 — when the Meatless Mess Hall reigned the beach — and stay west of Lincoln as much as humanly possible. They’ve seen and felt a lot of changes: Ravi, who previously worked at Sidewalk Café and the original Venice Whaler, spent six years as general manager of Danny’s before it closed abruptly in
January. But that’s the yin and yang of restaurants in a tourism destination.

“If it wasn’t for new faces, my work would be very boring,” he says.

The 16th annual Venice Beach Mardi Gras Parade steps off at noon Saturday, Feb. 18, where Rose Avenue meets the Venice Boardwalk. Find more info or contact parade organizers via Facebook.