This blog was written by Experience Columbia SC 2024 Ambassador David Laird.
How does a Capital City 700 miles outside of New Orleans become the Mardi Gras center of the Carolinas? By keeping it funky and embracing the chaos.
Each year on the Saturday before Fat Tuesday (the French translation of Mardi Gras), 5,000 plus from the surrounding Columbia area meet at City Roots farm – our urban roots farm just off Rosewood Avenue and right by Hunter Gatherer’s second location – in the 100-year-old hanger where Amelia Earhart once landed for a visit.
For the past 14 years, the Krewe de Columbia Ya Ya has hosted a family-friendly Mardi Gras celebration that rejects the overly cliched Bourbon street impressions and embraces more of a Cajun Mardi Gras spirit with a Carolina twist.
An annual highlight of the day begins with a parade through the Rosewood neighborhood. Krewe members are joined by the Soda City Brass Band, the King + Queen, ColaTown Bike Collective, and the Grand Marshalls as toss plenty of beads to the revelers. Yeah, that was a rusty old tractor leading the parade – it’s part of our charm. In recent years, a community participation spirit has embedded itself throughout the parade. Homes along the parade route are known to host “Parade Parties” and dress up in appropriate attire – their dogs even sometimes join the fun. Sometimes the parade is delayed as Krewe members get distracted by the sidewalk activities. But, we figure this out along the way.
The annual King and Queen float pays tribute to the festival’s roots, beginning 14 years ago as a fundraiser to help rebuild Will Moore Farms following a barn fire. Founding Krewe members Tom Hall, Eric McClam, Emile DeFelice, and Kristian Niemi throw a little shindig to have a little fun and raise some money. That first year, 350 people showed up. The next year, nearly 2,000. Last year more than 5,000.
The day has become so popular that in one day alone, Columbia’s Mardi Gras drinks more Abita beer than anywhere else in the Southeast outside of Louisiana does throughout the year. Though we strongly support our local brewery scene as well. Heads up: don’t be surprised if a random group dance breaks out while in the beer line, things happen.
The support has allowed the Mardi Gras festival to give back when possible to area nonprofit organizations that advance broader community collaborations like Girls Rock, Columbia Opportunity Resource, ColaTown Bike Collective and others.
Organized and run entirely by the volunteer Krewe, the annual Mardi Gras festival has become a staple in Columbia’s Carnival season. We celebrate the funkiness of the town and the independence of its people. The Krewe continues to provide Mardi Gras as our love letter to Columbia. How about y’all come on down and boogie with us?
It’s also the place where the author met his wife. True story.
What to expect:
Costumes are a plenty; many are handmade, and the more eccentric are celebrated. Traditional dress codes are shaky, and originality is embraced. Check out some of our thrift stores for inspiration.
Plan for a good time. Expect to become friends with strangers and embrace the spirit of the YaYa. Don’t be shocked if you hear this yelled from people throughout the day. It’s our greeting call, even though we’ve been with each other all day. It’s how we say, “love ya.”
Come hungry. Food trucks traditionally serve up Louisiana classics such as poboys, gumbo, red beans and rice, etouffee, beignets, king cake, and if things go right, boiled crawfish.
Open your ears: With 15 bands performing across three stages, you are always close to good music. Follow your favorites (The Plowboys) or find someone new. It’s hard to find a better deal in town.
Weather doesn’t get us down: If cold, grab an extra jacket. If wet, put on a pair of older boots. Either way, we boogie.