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Mysti Krewe of Nimbus hosts Portland's Mardi Gras ball

COURTESY PHOTOS: NOCTILUCENT ARTS - The Mardi Gras Ball in Portland always features cool bands and costumed revelers. The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper called it one of top-5 most authentic Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S. outside of Louisiana.When Jane-Clair Kerin moved from Lafayette, La., to Portland in 2005, she was struck by one big difference between her adopted state and her home state.

“Mardi Gras,” she says over dinner in a Southeast Portland restaurant. “It was the first time in my life it was any other Tuesday.”

That’s right, Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” is synonymous with Louisiana, where Catholicism, French and African-American cultures and a host of other influences combine to create the most massive pre-Lenten party in the United States.

Designed to be one last indulgent bash before people start fasting on Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras was an important part of the lives of Kerin and her husband, noted local musician Steve Kerin, who was raised in Lafayette.

Jane-Clair, herself a native of Houma, La., and Steve decided that because they couldn’t bring all of Portland to Louisiana, they’d bring Louisiana here. The friendly couple founded the Mysti Krewe of Nimbus, loosely modeled on similar clubs in Louisiana, the members of which create floats for Mardi Gras parades where they march in elaborate costumes. Today, more than 100 Portlanders belong to the Krewe, and about one-third are either from Louisiana or called it home at one time. The Krewe has become a fixture at such events as the Waterfront Blues Festival, where they’ve been seen joyously snaking their way through the crowd, strutting and dancing.

“The Krewe is all about having fun with friends,” Steve says, noting membership requires sponsorship by a current member.

The Krewe hosts its annual Mardi Gras Ball at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, in the Wonder Ballroom, 128 N.E. Russell St. The 21-and-older event costs $30 in advance, $35 at the door.

The ball features a costume contest with prizes and the crowning of the Mardi Gras King and Queen, with free traditional “king cake” distributed to the crowd.

You can learn more at www.wonderball.com or www.portlandmardigras.com.

The Krewe will also host a Mardi Gras parade at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9 — the official day of Mardi Gras. The parade kicks off at Victoria Bar, 4835 N. Albina Ave., then heads south nine blocks on Mississippi Avenue, ending at Ecliptic Brewing, 825 N. Cook St.

COURTESY PHOTOS: NOCTILUCENT ARTS - The Mardi Gras Ball in Portland always features costumed revelers.

Party time

Each year, the Krewe waits until Jan. 6, also known as Twelfth Night, the traditional start of the carnival season in Louisiana, to announce the year’s theme. This year it will be “Life is a Carnival” — an inclusive concept that embraces both Louisiana Mardi Gras and other “carnaval” events like Brazil’s, the Kerins say.

They add that if you’re coming to the ball, you don’t have to wear a costume, but they’d encourage you to do so.

“We’ll have plenty of beads and there will be face-painters,” Steve says.

“There’s a lot of costumes,” Jane-Clair adds. “And a lot of people are masked.”

The ball features a lively mix of Lousiana music, including zydeco, as well as blues, Dixieland, rock, samba, country and other styles.

This year’s ball features a musical tribute to Allen Touissant, the New Orleans songwriter-producer, who wrote such hits as “Mother-in-Law” as well as “Working in a Coal Mine” and “Southern Nights.” In addition to Steve Kerin, the musicians honoring Touissant include Lewi Longmire, Taylor John Williams, Christopher Worth, Karen Lovely, Kris Deelane, Michael Quinby, Zak Borden, Dan Berkery, Jennifer Smieja, Katy Oberg and Phil Garfinkel.

Other performers at the ball include Bloco Alegria, Portland’s newest Rio style samba band, playing the rhythms of Rio’s carnaval parades. Samba is a popular form of music and dance from Rio de Janeiro, with African roots that include the drums used, the rhythms, and the structure of the music itself. The word “alegria” means “happiness” in Portuguese, and the word “bloco” refers to a “city block.” Historically, people in different neighborhoods of Rio get together and play samba in the streets, drawing their neighbors out to celebrate. Different neighborhood blocks form different samba groups with creative names, and the word “bloco” took on the meaning of “group” or “band.”

Another group set to play is the Bridgetown Sextet, which plays authentic old-time jazz, swing, and stomp, harkening back to the time of Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver. Rounding out the entertainment bill is the Too Loose Cajun & Zydeco Band, which plays Cajun and zydeco dance music from southwestern Louisiana. This band features two fiddles, an accordion, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, rub-board, and bass and drums.

The Kerins and their friends must be doing something right, because the New Orleans Times-Picayune has listed Portland’s Mardi Gras as one of the Top-5 most authentic Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States outside of Louisiana.

“It makes me feel like we’re doing it right,” Jane-Clair says. “We’re representing correctly.”

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