Colorful beads flying left and right, music enveloping a town and a city-wide party generally characterize Mardi Gras, a New Orleans-based celebration that has drifted north, up the Mississippi River, and into Memphis, with the holiday celebrated by various people in the area.
One such example is a Mardi Gras celebration hosted at the Crosstown Concourse near Midtown. The “vertical city” offered festivities such as a parade, music, dance performances, decorating masks and a party. Mardi Gras was hosted Tuesday evening, in conjunction with the holiday in New Orleans.
“It really brings together everything we want to celebrate here at Concourse,” said Crosstown Concourse Marketing Manager Caitlin Hassinger in an interview with Local Memphis. “The young the old, people from the neighborhood, people from far away. If you’ve been waiting for a reason to come here because you’re not really sure what’s inside this building.”
Although the Concourse is offering their take on the festival, some prefer to celebrate at home with their friends and family, such as Vivien Kirby, a sophomore psychology student at the University of Memphis. She has been to the celebration in New Orleans, but her family will host their own celebration this year.
“We have family and friends over, it’s a huge party that we throw,” Kirby said. “My family usually hosts it and decorates the house with beads and lights. Usually traditional New Orleans colors like green, gold, yellow and purple. Some people even bring masks that they made.”
Jazz music tends to be played during festivities, and the Crosstown Concourse featured performances from Memphis Orleans Street Symphony and DJ Swagg Tuesday. This is not the case for the Kirby family, however.
“We don’t really have any particular music that we listen to,” she said. “We don’t really listen to the jazz-type music that is played all over New Orleans for Mardi Gras.”
The celebration is only a small part of Louisiana culture that has made its way to Memphis. Along with Cajun food that is commonly associated with the state being a commonplace, restaurants have opened such as Mardi Gras Memphis that serves “authentic Louisiana Cajun cuisine.” Another Cajun restaurant familiar with the University of Memphis students is the Bluff, located on the Highland Strip.
Although Louisiana is the only state that recognizes Mardi Gras as an official holiday, many states celebrate it unofficially and at one point, Memphis had its own official Mardi Gras in the 1870s. According to an article by WREG Memphis, the festival was started as a way to revitalize the city’s economy after the end of the Civil War.
“For this area, it was a pretty big deal,” said Tammy Braithwaite, the registrar for the Memphis Museum System and Pink Palace Museum, in an interview with WREG. “Memphis had a population of about 40,000 people at that time. They estimated the crowd at the first Mardi Gras at 20,000 plus.”
The city’s own Mardi Gras did not last, but the Cajun celebration has sown its roots in Memphis as its popularity becomes more prominent.