Two little boys stood under a misty street light in the warehouse district of Lafayette, La. Faintly, in the stillness of this damp bayou night, a huffing tuba riff wafted down the silent residential street toward the little boys, a couple of cops, a traffic barricade, and a few dozen other locals. Gravel crunched under our feet, a very tall man i a cowboy hat smiled as his kids talked to a photographer taking their photo.
Then headlines appeared, beamed the promise of an approach. Tuba chuffing was now joined by the whack of a big marching drum, trumpets. The little boys froze in the middle of the street, outlined in headlight hite.
And suddenly there was — a parade. The first of the season, a walking parade kicking off Mardi Gras events in Lafayette. A litany of oddnss, Girls in white, fairy-light blinking tutus; guys in traditional bayou tatter-costumes and terrifying masks, swinging shiny gold and purple beads; a big school band blasting brass notes in that only down here way that makes your feet move before you can stop them,
And, as I had been warned by a man wearing an Evangline Maid bread button, a discorporated loaf of marching bread slices. Or, call them people sandwiches if it’s easier to imagine, bodies wedghed between two soft foam pieces of Evangeline Maid bread — the wonderbread, I gathered, of these parts . Some with matching hats, miniature slices around the brim. Alas, the buns hasd all been thrown by the time the parade arrived at our location. No bread slices either. Not even a crouton.
A marching sandwich handed me an empty bread bag, with not even a crumb inside. I handed it back, as some bees flapped by; maybe they had honey? No, but they had beads, which the children grabbed greedily, then dropped to the sidewalk, immediately going back for more.
A mosquito, complete with a drop of blood at the end of its, what, proboscis? hovered near the insects, and the children, and anyone with a camera.
And as quickly as they had arrived, they were going away, drifting into the haze, toward a hulking former warehouse that is now a home to music, and tonight two bayou faves will be hitting the stage — the New Natives Brass Band and the Lost Bayou Ramblers, just back from their Grammy win.
I’d been i Lafayette about two hours, and was already on my way to my third celebration. Mardi Gras in New Orleans may be bigger, but everything about these Cajun country festivities were certainly stranger, and more unexpected!
There’s air conditioning — a happy suprise — and a bright, expansive bar, and the parade people, of course, checking their bling, straightening wings. The music hadn’t started, and Warehouse 535 really was a warehouse, big and industrial scattered with round tables. But the people watching was entertainment enough, everyone sparkling, from their LED-blinking crowns and implausible hairdos to their spangled sneakers. Parish beers (a happy discovery), Blue Moons, the bottles begin to gather, then crowd, the tables. condensation making them slide easily across to a fellow reveler.
The New Natives fill the stage with brass — end to end horns, trombones sliding over the crowd in front, and also with bodies — some of these guys were kind of huge, making the one small trumpet player go positively teeny.
There are older couples with mirror-image smile lines, skinny teenagers with cell phones and butterfly capes, couples from Los Angeles and a contingent from Columbia, nodding with the beat. The call and response comes without coaxing, the crowd knows the words, everybody’s helping the evening just … lift off.
Young women (men?) in slithery spandex have commandeered three wobbly chairs, but still they dance, energetically and ceaselessly, striking the occasional bending, arching tableau. They are beautiful and a little frightening, too.
We are all dancing, in our own ways, together. My voice has gone ragged from shouting with the Ramblers. Fiddle and accordion and, jeez, a triangle, too – like a serious come to dinner triangle. Capable of triangle solos. So there.
Another thank-you-God-and-now-I-can-die moments.
Son of a gun.