March 2004
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C'etait une bon fete

By Suzanne Strazza

For one night, Mancos’ Grand Ave was transformed into New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street. On Feb. 21, the town hosted its first annual Mardi Gras Ball, a benefit for the Community Center and Mancos Opera House. Despite stormy weather and hazardous road conditions, there was a great turnout for the event of the season.

The day began with a pet parade to benefit the new town park. Then, as the sun went down and the night turned sultry, the gala began.

The ball was the brainchild of Mayor Greg Rath, this year’s Mardi Gras captain, town Clerk Amy Philips and Cultural Affairs Director Denise Stovall- King. Last year the three traveled to Galveston, Texas, to check out that town’s Mardi Gras celebration.

Rath said, “Galveston’s celebration started small and has grown to almost rival New Orleans. We wanted to see if it was possible for us to do the same.”

The idea was to provide an exciting event during the time of year when folks are going stir-crazy. Besides providing an opportunity to get out, the celebration was to raise money to subsidize both the new kitchen in the community center and to aid in the restoration of the Mancos Opera House, where the ball was held.

For those who have never visited the opera house, it is a place to be seen. It invokes nostalgia for the theater days of the 1940s. Although, for Mardi Gras, the opera house looked less like a theater and more like a French Quarter courtyard complete with fountain and hanging Spanish moss.

Instead of actors, the stage was graced by singer Joyce Simpson and her band, her voice adding a romantic touch to the night. Later in the evening, as jazz gave way to Zydeco and techno music, dancers of all ages alighted, providing everyone an opportunity at center stage.

Mardi Gras is the traditional end to Carnival, the season of merriment which begins on Jan. 6, the Twelfth Night, and ends on Fat Tuesday, the night before Lent begins. Because it signifies the beginning of Lent, there is much feasting and fun associated with Mardi Gras.

True to tradition, there was an exorbitant amount of decadent food at Mancos’ Ball: gumbo, jambalaya, crawdads, red beans and rice, spicy fried chicken, oysters on the half shell, and fried shrimp. Much of the food was actually flown in from New Orleans and all of it was prepared by Rath, Philips, Nikki Elmore, Kelli and Kaelan Yeomans and Denise Miliken. It was a sumptuous spread. On top of the traditional fare, there were cheesecakes, crème puffs and traditional hurricanes, which were a huge hit.

Also vital to a true Mardi Gras celebration are the costumes and masks. Folks really put on the nines for this magical night. There were velvets, sequins and feathers galore. Many of the costumes came from the Costume Emporium in Durango and were rented at a discount by attendees. One couple, Linda and Philip Walters, who dressed as Marie Antoinette and Marc Anthony, were crowned Mardi Gras king and queen.

Besides the help from the Costume Emporium, many other donations were made from local businesses: beer from the Durango Brewery, wine from Guy Drew Vineyards in McElmo Canyon, and decorations from the Cliffrose, to name a few. The Ute Mountain Casino sponsored a $1K table.

Did the gala event meet the expectations of those who hosted it?

“Yes,” replied Rath. “It was a huge success for our first year.”

Besides coming up with the idea and cooking for the evening, Rath also handled invitations, inquiries and many of the planning details. He says that he couldn’t have done it without the help of the volunteers and is very appreciative of their time and energy. Just to add to the mayhem of preparing for the town’s biggest event, Rath’s dog broke his leg while marching in the pet parade earlier that day, which had Rath at the vet for several hours in between hanging moss and shucking oysters.

In financial terms the evening was also extremely successful. Close to 140 people attended, coming from Montezuma and La Plata counties, Farmington and even Grand Junction. Unfortunately, due to bad weather, many from Durango were unable to attend. In addition to ticket sales, individual donations came from folks as far away as Connecticut.

At press time, the total dollar amount raised was over $10,000 and there are still donations coming in. After everything is paid for, the proceeds will be split between the Community Center and the Opera House. Both will be receiving substantial amounts to help with restoration and remodeling. What about next year? Rath hopes to have enough people attend to fill both the Opera House and the Community Center. “This first year’s event proved to be much more successful than I could have imagined. It has already outgrown the abilities of a small group of volunteers,” Rath said. “We’ll have to take it up a level next year.”

He also hopes to make it more affordable for more people in the future.

Town Administrator Tom Glover’s thoughts on the evening were also positive.

“It was fabulous! I was surprised and thrilled by the turnout. It was wonderful to see so many people supporting two vital community projects.”

He added, “Thank you to everyone.” Laissez les bons temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)


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