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Seventh annual Portland Mardi Gras Ball on tap for Saturday

By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // Carnival Season comes to Portland courtesy of Mysti Krewe of Nimbus

Since its inception in 2011 by some dedicated Louisiana ex-pats, the annual Portland Mardi Gras Ball has grown into one of the area's signature events. This year's bash takes place Saturday Feb. 18 at the Tiffany Center Emerald Ballroom in Portland.

I recently had a chance to chat with Steve Kerin, a founding member of the presenting organization Mysti Krewe of Nimbus. Kerin provides all the details you need to know for the festivities. Tickets are going fast, so be sure to grab yours now.

What is the Mardi Gras Ball?

The Mardi Gras Ball is a celebration of the rich tradition of Carnival Season in Louisiana. Mardi Gras Krewes in Louisiana work throughout the year to put on lavish balls, parties and parades every Mardi Gras season. Since Louisiana is a largely Catholic state, these balls occur between Twelfth Night (Jan. 6) and Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras celebrating is a way of blowing off some steam and having a good time before the season of Lent, when folks give up some of their baser pleasures.

Who organizes the ball?

The Mysti Krewe of Nimbus had our first Ball in 2011, and it was largely due to a handful of Louisiana expatriates feeling homesick whenever Mardi Gras rolled around and the desire for an authentic carnival party.

How has the ball grown over time?

Our first Ball was at the Norse Hall, and was organized in just a couple of months by a group of about 30 people. We now have more than 100 members in our Krewe. Our Mardi Gras events have grown every year. This will be our seventh ball.

The theme for this year is Fire On the Bayou. What does that refer to?

Fire On the Bayou refers to The Meters song by the same name. Most of the themes that we have picked in the past have referred to song titles, and we generally like to think of themes that suggest imagery that can be used in the costumery that people wear, as well as the decorations that we create for the ballroom. Krewe members nominate theme ideas, and then we vote to decide on the theme for the year.

What happens at the ball?

The ball is a feast for the eyes, the mouth, and the ears. Many people go to great lengths on their costume, and it is truly amazing just to look around once you are inside. (We won’t kick you out if you don’t wear a costume, by the way.) Since the theme is “Fire on the Bayou,” we will transform the ballroom into a mysterious swamp. There will also be a bit of pomp and circumstance when we crown the new King and Queen of the Mysti Krewe of Nimbus. There is lots of dancing, eating and revelry. There is always a warm, friendly vibe as many of us emulate the tradition of southern hospitality and letting the good times roll. We will have a full bar with New Orleans drink specials as well.

What music can people expect to hear?

Since our theme is based on a Meters song, we will have a dirty-stanky-n-funky New Orleans funk revue set featuring LaRhonda Steele, Karen Lovely, Michael Quinby, Chuk Barber, Dan Berkery, Jennifer Smeija, and myself. Other Louisiana style musical groups are going to perform at the ball as well - we have Too Loose Cajun and Zydeco Band, Brass Roots Movement, and The Northside Skull and Bones Gang. The Northside Skull and Bones Gang is a Mardi Gras Indian tribe (the oldest of the Mardi Gras Indian tribes!). Mardi Gras Indians are a traditional element of New Orleans that was brought to Portland by hurricane Katrina refugee Chuk Barber.

Tickets are going fast. What does a ticket include?

Besides getting you into the ball, the ticket includes a commemorative mardi gras bead with the theme’s art on the medallion. The ticket also provides you either a regular or vegetarian gumbo with rice, cole slaw, and corn bread. Also available for purchase will be oyster shooters, boiled shrimp, and hush puppies. the ball is general admission, and there is a balcony level in the Emerald Ballroom for whomever wishes to sit there.

Who puts on the ball?

The Mardi Gras Ball is put on by the Mysti Krewe of Nimbus, Portland’s one and only Mardi Gras Krewe. For people who want to get involved, we have public events, such as our Mardi Gras evening parade and second lines at the Portland waterfront Blues Fest, and occasional other miscellaneous good times. For those interested in joining our Krewe, accept new members twice a year. You do need to have a existing Krewe member act as your sponsor.

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