Mardi Gras parade continues a century-old Venice Beach tradition and a Brazilian Carnival is born
By Shanee Edwards
Love may be in the air, but romantic Valentine’s Day strolls aren’t going to be the only thing drawing couples to the beach this weekend.
Expect a cacophony of parading revelers led by an authentic New Orleans brass band to drown out the sappy love songs wafting from cheap car stereos on Saturday as the 14th annual Venice Beach Mardi Gras Parade hits the boardwalk.
The party begins at 11 a.m. at the Venice Alehouse (Rose Avenue and Ocean Front Walk), where warm-up libations lead into an outdoor group photo shoot of costumed revelers about a half hour later.
At noon the Mudbug Brass Band and hula hoop entertainers will lead a Bourbon Street-worthy dance procession for about a mile down the boardwalk to Windward Circle, then loop back toward Rose Avenue for an after-party featuring Creole- and Cajun-style music by the Gumbo Brothers from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Venice Bistro.
The theme of this year’s parade, chosen by King Marc William Sloan and Queen Michelle Van Vliet, is “One Love.”
Perhaps there’s room for two.
The inaugural Venice Brazilian Bloco Carnavalesco launches at 1 p.m. Saturday as a companion to the New Orleans-style celebration, taking off from Rose Avenue and Ocean Front Walk about an hour behind the other parade.
Carnavalesco founder Sergio Mielniczenko, a cultural attaché for the consulate general of Brazil in Los Angeles, said he’s been able to line up Brazilian musicians, samba dancers and performers of capoeira (martial arts that integrates dance) in short order.
“In New Orleans you have the African-American and French presence. In Brazil, it’s the same thing. The first Carnival in Brazil started as very European, then spilled out into the streets. The African influence on music in Brazil is very, very important. The mix of that gave birth to the Brazilian Mardi Gras,” Mielniczenko said.
The contemporary Venice Beach Mardi Gras Parade started in 2002 when ubiquitous Venice songstress Jessica Long, frontwoman of Sugar Shack Attack, organized a Fat Tuesday celebration in her Grandview Boulevard neighborhood to celebrate the New Orleans roots of her Gumbo Brother boyfriend Johann Stein.
Intended to inspire creative energy and help create community, the parade quickly took on a life of its own as a revival of a Venice tradition that started a century ago under Venice of America builder Abbot Kinney and his celebrated town decorator, Arthur Reese.
Reese designed floats and massive papier-mâché masks to help draw revelers to early Venice, and the event became a local tradition that roared through the ‘20s, danced through the Great Depression but was cut short by World War II.
“There are amazing photos from the 1920s and ‘30s of really elaborate processions with soldiers carrying spears, floats, go-carts and all that wonderful nonsense. Like people drawn to the Venice Beach Mardi Gras Parade today, it was all for the love of foolish, old-time Venice shenanigans,” said Venice historian Todd von Hoffmann. He and wife Theo reigned over last year’s parade as king and queen.
In true N’awlins style, many of revelers in past parades marched as either members of Long’s Krewe of Grand View or the Windward Krewe. This year’s royal family is introducing a third to the mix, the Krewe of Kinney.
A rolling cart of about a dozen drums will bring up the rear of the parade with the new krewe, von Hoffmann said.
If a wild Mardi Gras cavalcade with feathered costumes, jazz musicians and bead-tossing sounds like an ironic hipster pursuit, Long says it really shouldn’t.
“The parade is part of a strong regeneration of Venice traditions that started with Abbot Kinney. There were bungalows on the canals and people didn’t live there, they just went there on the weekends to get away from the city,” Long said.
And one part of Venice tradition is starting new traditions, Mielniczenko said.
“I always had a dream of going to New Orleans, but I’ve never been,” he said.” Culturally, I think we have so many things in common, like music and dance. And everyone loves to party.”
Festivities run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, starting from the Venice Ale House (2 Rose Ave., Venice) and wrapping up at the Venice Bistro, (323 Ocean Front Walk, Venice). Search “Venice Beach Mardi Gras Parade” at facebook.com to connect with organizers.