Thousands gather for Phoenix Mardi Gras festival

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Thousands flocked to downtown Phoenix’s CityScape Saturday night to take part in the second annual Mardi Gras Parade, Festival and Pub Crawl.

The Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors organized the festival. The Ambassador Program is a nonprofit organization established in 2001 by property owners in the business district formerly known as Copper Square to organize special events and promote downtown Phoenix.

A Downtown Phoenix Mardi Gras event was originally the brainchild of Ambassador Program Manager Samantha Jackson and Bad Cactus Brass Band leader Benjie Messer.

Jackson was pleased with the opportunity to organize an event that would be entertaining and beneficial to the local Phoenix economy.

“Mardi Gras is like a party for the world, so in that sense, it promotes community and togetherness,” Jackson said. “It is also a great way to give back to all of the local vendors and businesses.”

The 20 booths at CityScape for the festival were hosted by various businesses selling Mardi Gras favorites like costumes, masks and Cajun cuisine.

This year’s number of vendors represented a significant jump from the 5 vendors present in 2011.

Also included in the celebration were artists, singers and fortune tellers. At 5:30 p.m., a parade featuring burlesque dancers, roller derby girls and several marching bands took place along Madison and Jefferson Avenue.

Downtown Phoenix Ambassador Silvia Hayes helped organize the event.

“Our main objective is to enhance the experience of anyone who wants to explore Phoenix,” Hayes said. “Obviously, Mardi Gras is a global event and now we want the chance to participate ourselves.”

The festival has become especially important to business owner Bill Baker, co-owner of Phoenix-based Crazy Hats and Beads, which specializes in Mardi Gras paraphernalia and decorations.

“We were so happy to learn that Phoenix is finally bringing some New Orleans flavor here,” Baker said. “It creates such a positive effect for the city because people are looking for something to do that doesn’t involve bars. It is a huge positive for parents and children.”

Phoenix resident and mother of four Diane Santos said she embraced the celebration as a family-friendly event.

“Events like this are wonderful because they are appropriate for all ages,” Santos said.

Organizers are projecting the Phoenix Police Department’s numbers for Saturday’s event to be higher than last year’s roughly 1,000 patrons.

“We are estimating somewhere between 4,000 to 5,000 people,” Jackson said.

At 9 p.m., several party buses arrived at CityScape to take revelers from Madison Avenue, following a planned route to visit pubs and bars along Central Avenue before circling back.

The buses stopped at Seamus McCaffrey’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, the Rose and Crown, Bar Smith, Coach & Willie’s, Ghost Lounge, Tilted Kilt, Copper Blues, Lucky Strike and others.

To accommodate crowds, event organizers decided to extend the Pub Crawl an hour to end at 2 a.m.

Aurora Badger said she was highly pleased with the festive atmosphere.

“I am originally from Wyoming, so this is a very different change of pace for me,” Badger said.


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