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Mardi Gras USA

This story was written by's Gina Pace

Before this year, Frederick Bell, 61, didn't know that Galveston, Texas, even had Mardi Gras.

But after evacuating his East New Orleans home, Bell landed in the island community where he has remained after his house was inundated by 5-foot floods. Now he'll be participating in the Krewe Babalu parade, which rolls through Galveston on Friday night.

"Mardi Gras has been part of me all my life," said Bell, a supervisor with the Postal Service. "From the time I can remember, my mother would drag us out to parades."

Pre-Lenten carnivals across the country are set to absorb displaced residents like Bell, who want to remember tradition, as well as tourists who are shying away from a scaled-down Mardi Gras in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. The city's pre-hurricane population of 465,000 has dwindled to an estimated 200,000 residents.

For Galveston locals, it's the more the merrier.

"Mardi Gras has always been large and festive, and this year a good bit of people from the New Orleans area are participating," said Gladden Walters III, the chairman of Krewe Babalu parade. "The bigger the better."

Mobile, Ala., is also expecting a large turnout. The metro area has absorbed anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 residents displaced by the hurricane, and visitors are coming in larger numbers too, said Harriet Sharer of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Hotels have been filling up faster — and farther away from the city — than usual. Mobile, which had the first Mardi Gras celebration in the United Sates in the early 1700s, is adding two more parades to the lineup and expanding another.

"People want to put on the best show ever, after the horrible destruction that Katrina caused everyone," said Stephen Toomey, the owner of the largest Mardi Gras supply store in Mobile. "Katrina put a spot light on Mardi Gras in general, in all parts of our country people are wanting to celebrate, because New Orleans has been hindered somewhat."

Lafayette Parish, an area with about 190,000 people halfway between New Orleans and Houston, gained between 15,000 and 20,000 people after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said Gerald Breaux of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Bureau. But they happened to settle in a place that has a Mardi Gras that draws between 300,000 and 400,000 people during five days of celebrations.

"All of those people from the New Orleans area have a knowledge of Mardi Gras," he said. "We expect those people to be out in big numbers."

Universal Orlando has added a new twist to their celebration in central Florida by bringing down New Orleans musicians for each Saturday of their 11-week Mardi Gras.

With many bars and restaurants in New Orleans not back to capacity, this gives musicians a paying gig while adding authenticity to the park's carnival, said Senior Vice President of Entertainment Jim Timon. Universal also donated $10,000 to Tipitina's Foundation, which is supporting displaced musicians.

Tipitina's helped singer and guitarist Marc Stone when he got back in town to a flooded-out house.

"They hooked me up with an instrument," said Stone, who plays roots and blues music. "I was fresh in town and didn't have anything on the books, and they arranged a gig."

"I jumped at the opportunity," said accordion player Dwayne Rubin, whose band Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers played at Universal on Feb. 18. "It's a good way for me to bring my type of music to Orlando. I haven't touched that area of the United States yet."

Rubin grew up in Louisiana, the son of Rockin' Dopsie, a Zydeco pioneer, and thought Mardi Gras only took place in the Big Easy.

"Come Back Baby" by Dwayne Dopsie
"I was a small-minded person thinking it only took place in Louisiana," said Rubin, 27, who is performing in Worley, Idaho, during this Mardi Gras season. "But I've played in Michigan where they celebrate it, and Panama City, Fla. — I'd never noticed how far out Mardi Gras goes in the United States."

By Gina Pace

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