Making Mardi Gras in a Mountain City

Vegetables ready, five pounds shrimp and one pound crab meat in the fridge

We’re a long way from the Gulf Coast. Never is that more clear than Mardi Gras week. As an ex-patriot of Mobile, Alabama, Urban Woman and I can tell you that this was the highest of holidays in the city of my childhood. For those of you less educated on the history of the celebration, the oldest Mardi Gras in America is in Mobile, Alabama. It was and is a huge affair. Public schools are closed the day of and the day before Mardi Gras. Of course, when Ash Wednesday hits even school children have to pay for their sins by returning to classes.

Cook that gumbo, Urban Woman!

So, of course, we had to host a little Mardi Gras revelry downtown. Shaft sponsors an irregularly scheduled beverage event throughout the year and February has become the annual celebration of the holiday in downtown Knoxville.

Decorated, but empty

It all starts with the beads and doubloons. Once those are strewn about and the house is ready, it’s time to get serious with the gumbo. The roux has to be perfect – extremely dark, but not burned. Vegetables of your choice are added and then the seafood. Crab meat and gumbo is my family tradition. In later years we spiced it up with a little andouille sausage. Be generous with the crab boil and have bottles of Louisiana hot sauce for individual taste.

Now we got it going on!

We had out little gathering on Sunday with about thirty people and I know at least one other home downtown where gumbo was brewing for a family disappointed to miss out on their annual trip to the Mobile Mardi Gras. I met another potential reveler on the street Sunday morning. Her roots are more in the New Orleans direction (they have Mardi Gras there, too). Where our King Cakes were homemade by a good friend, hers was imported from Mandeville, Louisiana, which is across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.

Let the Good Times Roll

I remember years ago there was an annual Mardi Gras parade in downtown Knoxville. If memory serves correctly, it was somehow a fundraiser for SOCM or some similar organization. Brilliantly dress marchers stand out in my memory, though I can’t really recall floats. There was candy and children’s games afterwards, I believe. This would have been somewhere around the late 1980s or early 1990s. More recently, I wrote about the Mardi Gras event which broke out at Kendrick Place, hosted by Knox Heritage and headed up by Mobilian Kim Trent.

That idea faded with time and the advent of the darkest years for downtown. In recent years a new Mardi Gras related tradition has arisen: Mardi Growl. It involves festive canines and you’ll find last year’s posts here and here. This year’s event, which benefits Young-Williams Animal Center will be held March 3, which is a bit after people Mardi Gras. It is also an annual work conflict for me, so I’ll depend on some of you to take pictures and submit them for inclusion on the blog. Last year Shaft took a raft of photos and Stuck Inside of Knoxville reader and animal chip implanter, Jeannine, also sent in pictures. Just send them to

Every good southern party ends in a duel, no?

In the meantime, Happy Mardi Gras, Ya’ll.

And to understand why I’m hard on the floats in the Christmas Parade in Knoxville, take a look at the video below. It shows one parade of many from last year in my hometown. For this year in Mobile, I count around forty parades scattered from January 21 to Fat Tuesday. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!