Fat Tuesday celebrations hit the streets in Portland

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Heidi Shuler, left, and Tim Shaunessy celebrate at a previous year's Mardi Gras ball.Heidi Shuler said it took Portlanders a minute to get the rainstorm of green, gold and purple beads being tossed onto them from a balcony of Louisiana transplants and Mardi Gras revelers, but now they are all about it.

Shuler, 52, a Corbett writer and musician, is one of the founding members of the only Mardi Gras ‘Krewe’ in Portland — the Mysti Krewe of Nimbus.

In New Orleans where Mardi Gras rules, krewes are decades-old social clubs that run thousands of members deep, each with its own name and distinct purpose.

Four years ago, a couple of Louisiana expat-musicians who missed the colorful Fat Tuesday traditions they grew up with decided to form their own krewe in Portland.

Coining their name after the city’s ever-present mist and clouds, the friends got fancied up and threw their first ball at the Bossanova Ballroom on lower East Burnside Street in Portland.

While she’s no Louisiana native, Shuler is one of the many local members of Mysti Krewe who has no ties to the South, but joined because they love everything Mardi Gras from the Cajun food and zydeco music to parading around town in costume and passing a good time.

“The idea is to bring that sense of joie de vivre to Portland,” said Shuler, who plays as a percussionist for a band called Atomic Gumbo.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Masks and Lousiana-inspired music are basically a requirement at Mysti Krewe of Nimbus celebrations.Now in its fourth year, the Mysti Krewe of Nimbus hosts a relatively new addition to its annual Mardi Gras ball tonight at 6 p.m. — a parade on Northeast Portland’s Mississippi Street.

Shuler welcomes East County folks to grab their masks and beads and join in the revelry.

“It’s a very short drive to get right into the heart of Louisiana,” she said.

Memories of Mardi Gras

Kathy Ware of Portland was born and raised in Shreveport, La.

Ware, 60, said she doesn’t miss living in Louisiana, but she misses the Cajun food, music, celebrations and playful attitude southerners have toward dressing up in costumes.

As kids she and her family would visit her grandparents in New Orleans, where the carnival season starts as early as Jan. 6.

The King Cake comes out and people start having parties, she said. Parades and balls follow in February.

Ware’s grandfather was a member of the Krewe of Rex, one of the oldest and most famous of New Orlean’s krewes, Ware said. All over Louisiana, she said small towns have their own Mardi Gras celebrations, parades and balls.

As a 13-year-old, Ware remembers going to her grandfather’s ball and seeing everyone dressed in tuxedos and masks and dancing around her.

“They give you little silver trinkets and a velvet bag. It was quite exciting and elegant and a fabulous memory,” she said.

In the daytime, she’d go to the parades, catch beads and watch the floats go by.

A family krewe

For her, Mysti Krewe is a way of connecting with her roots and meeting other people who feel the same way. Ware works as a speech language pathologist in Portland, and in the past has taught at Fairview Elementary School.

A long way from her family, who still live in the South, Ware said, “The krewe sort of feels like our family. We all have become really close.”

The Mysti Krewe has expanded from about 30 members to 85 of all ages, from 20s to 70s, and from locals to Gulf Coast natives looking to meet people and get involved.

“Our circle of friends has grown exponentially,” Ware said.

The first year Mysti Krewe of Nimbus hosted a ball, Ware said nobody knew what to expect.

“It was just friends getting together to throw a party,” she said.

But 250 people braved the winter chill and showed up dressed in costume and ready to party. The next year, 500. This year, the ball was held Saturday, March 1, at the Bossanova Ballroom, 722 E. Burnside, Portland.

Those in attendance were invited to dress to the theme of Sinners and Saints and dance the night away to a variety of live Cajun and zydeco music including bands such as the Northside Skull and Bones Gang, the Too Loose Cajun and Zydeco Band and the Transcendental Brass Band.

Judges voted on winners of a costume contest and on the Mysti Krewe king and queen.

And of course, traditional Cajun food and King Cake was served.

If you miss the celebration this year, you also can catch the Mysti Krewe of Nimbus in action atop a float in the Starlight Parade and at the Waterfront Blue’s Festival.

New members are always welcome.

“We are just a social and pleasure club,” Ware said. “No big mission statements at this point. Just to have fun and educate about Louisiana’s culture.”

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