DUNEDIN — This year, Dunedin will start the party early.
The city’s 29th annual Mardi Gras Parade and Festival — one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations in the Southeast — will be presented Saturday, Feb. 22, noon to 11 p.m., in downtown Dunedin.
The parade will get underway at 7 p.m. in front of TD Ballpark, 373 Douglas Ave. It will head north on Douglas Avenue, ending near Skinner Boulevard.
Admission is free. VIP lounge tickets cost $125 a person and include unlimited beer and wine as well as hors d’oeuvres from Dunedin restaurants, a prime viewing area and lots of beads. For VIP tickets, visit dunedinmardigras.com.
According to event organizers, about 34,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event. Food and craft vendors will line Main Street. The parade will feature floats as well as the Mardi Gras King and Queen. The event also will feature musical performances.
According to event organizers, the entertainment lineup on the main stage will feature performances by Gumbo Limbo Cajun Band, She’s That Dude, Doyle’s Revenge, Bryan Lee Six String Therapy and TBone Hamilton’s Big Easy Revue. Playing the west stage will be Lee Pons, Whiskey Richards, Fade to Grace and Gypsy Elise & the Royal Blues. The entertainment schedule is subject to change without notice.
TBone Hamilton’s Big Easy Revue is a New Orleans styled band. According to bassist Tom “TBone” Hamilton, they just want to make people get up and dance. According to Hamilton, who leads that band, they have been playing music throughout the Tampa Bay area since 2009. Their sound is based on the second-line feel of New Orleans. As stated on the band’s website, “there is always a helping of jazz, blues and funk to complete the ‘holy trinity’ of the groove.”
With her 3.5-octave range, and silken, throaty lower range, Gypsy Elise is the rarest form of vocalist: a female contralto.
Her band — the Royal Blues — features her husband Ryan De Sade Way on primary keys and key bass, Chuck Crawley on the drums, Ricky Jackson on sax, as well as Ladhe Drake and Donald St. Charles, on backup vocals, auxiliary percussion, and washboard respectively. Gypsy and Ryan's 8-year-old son is also featured as an entertainer: as a vocalist, dancer, and washboard player.
Gypsy Elise & the Royal Blues serve up a bohemian, sensual mash-up of blues, R&B, jazz, rock and funk. Basque Gypsy by birth, but essentially a southern musician by trade, Elise was born to a family of entertainers. Her flower-child era rearing is clearly heard in her music. Way, an FSU graduate, has performed with over a dozen professional bands and appears on close to 20 CDs.
Five musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds joined forces to form Fade to Grace. Bassist Chris Ryals has been playing since age 13 and has a knack for rock and funk. Sergio Escalona, who plays rhythm and lead guitar, hails from Venezuela and has worked with several bands over the last 30 years. He is comfortable playing rock, blues, funk and progressive. Drummer Pate Cappalli is passionate about playing and started when he was 6. He loves rock music but really enjoys expanding his reach, exemplified by the crossover songs the band has incorporated into its repertoire.
On lead guitar and vocals, Chuck Hanson has been part of many bands over the years. He also collects guitars and cars. Vocalist Sherri Witmer has been singing for more than 20 years. She enjoys performing all styles of music. According to Witmer, the band will be writing original music soon.
The event is hosted by Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association and is produced by AMG Group Music Events. Parade attendees are advised to stake out a spot along the parade route early since some attendees begin arriving shortly after lunchtime.
With its roots going back more than a quarter of a century, Dunedin’s unique spin on the celebration offers revelers an opportunity to enjoy Mardi Gras without having to travel outside the Tampa Bay area. According to History.com, Mardi Gras is a Christian holiday and popular cultural phenomenon dating back millennia to pagan springtime fertility rites. Known in some parts of the world as Carnival, it is celebrated in many countries. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Venice, Italy; and New Orleans, Louisiana, all play host to some of the largest public festivities based around the holiday.
A small group of Dunedin businesspeople — the very group that would eventually become the Dunedin Downtown Merchants Association — came up with the idea to bring Mardi Gras to Dunedin way back in 1991.