By Jeffrey Allen Federowicz
For The Daily Item
WILLIAMSPORT — WILLIAMSPORT — It’s time for beads and beer, Cajun cuisine and the music of merriment as the Bayou comes to Billtown for the 17th annual Mardi Grass celebration and a chance to party hardy before the Lenten season starts next Wednesday.
Starting Friday night and running until an explosive fireworks climax on Saturday night, Mardi Grass, held in the city’s downtown district, also comes at a time when many area residents are dealing with cabin fever and need to add a little Cajun spice to their cold and chilly days.
“Mardi Gras offers a small taste of New Orleans’ spirit to us Pennsylvanians in the north,” said Steve Koch of The Bullfrog Brewery in downtown Williamsport. The Bullfrog Brewery will be featuring music both nights of Mardi Gras, specialty drinks will also be featured as well as several authentically spiced creole favorites.
This year’s Mardi Grass will feature a parade through the downtown on Saturday night, Cajun-inspired dishes, a gumbo cook off, lots of great music and drink specials at more than 10 downtown bars. Free trolley shuttle service across the downtown will also be offered to party-goers during the event.
“My friends and I always have a blast at Mardi Gras and we are so looking forward to it this year because the weather has been such a pain,” said Lindsey Wyngate, Lewisburg. “I’m a good Catholic girl so Mardi Gras is my one last hoopla for fun before Lent starts, so my friends and I make the most out of it and have an awesome time, catch some music and lots of drinks.”
A few of the bands that will be making merry include Keith Randall from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and the ever popular blues band Miz Ida and the All Nightaz 9 p.m. to midnight Saturday at the Fourth Street Grille and Ale House.
At Barrel 135, Mallory Scoppa & Jon Shively will perform from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Simeon Myers from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday.
At the Brickyard the Keystone Ska Exchange will perform groove-inspired tunes Friday from 9 p.m. to midnight while the Casheras will take to the stage Saturday from 9 p.m. to midnight. The Pub will feature the sounds of Zach Baggett and Isaih Britton on Friday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and on Saturday Dylan & Maverick from 7 to 10 p.m. followed by Clouds Make Sounds until 1 a.m.
Perhaps the wildest place to be during Mardi Gras will be The Cell Block as it welcomes the party band Gypsy Wisdom on Friday starting at 10 p.m. and Generation Next on Saturday night starting at 10 p.m. The Bullfrog Brewery will host Bombadil from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and The Ameros from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday.
“We are a piano, bass and drums three-piece from North Carolina and try to do what we can to sound as full as possible. We’re often upbeat; all sing but aren’t afraid to play a song solo. Folks should expect to hear everything from classical piano to Kinks-style upbeat rock to North Carolina-influenced folk-pop,” said James Phillips, drummer and vocals for the Durham-based band Bombadil.”We’ve been playing music together for five years and I feel like are able to put on a unique show that will fit the Mardi Gras vibe just right. Also, Bullfrog has amazing burgers.”
Mardi Gras also provides the opportunity to experience the flavorful and sometimes spicy Cajun cuisine with many restaurants and bars offering everything from crawfish ravioli to frog legs.
Of course what would Mardi Gras be without the beads and numerous stores around the city will be stocked up with enough beads and bling to make any reviler merry.
“The CA Reed store sells numerous types of beads, plain colored, multi-colored, designs of mimes, some with hearts on them some have an alligator holding an umbrella, some with a large mask in center of necklace,” said Josie Latini, manager of the CA Reed store in Williamsport.
In addition to beads, the store also stocks Mardi Gras masks featuring some with feathers and others with a Venetian design.
Although Mardi Gras has changed over the past few years with attendance less than initial years, the event still offers participants the chance to partake in some spicy food, some hot music and some jolly good times that will help chase away those winter blues.