Fat Tuesday

Despite chilly temperatures, more than 2,500 people turned out Tuesday night for a calm Mardi Gras celebration in Old Town Manassas. At 9:30 p.m., police reported no arrests or issued tickets.

Lt. Carl Crawford of the Manassas Police Department said there were no problems up to that time. “It’s been very successful,” he said.

A mix of adults, children and families walked around the grounds — some decked out in vibrantly colored face paint or masks, and others wearing purple, red, gold and other colored beads. The smell of hot dogs, jumbalaya and cotton candy filled the air, and the sounds of the blues and rock spilled from two stages.

The festival took place on Battle Street — which included children’s events — and in the parking lot of Hero’s Restaurant/Jake’s Seafood, adjacent to the Center for the Arts. By 9 p.m., the temperature dropped to about 34 degrees, but it didn’t stop revelers from coming in the front gates.

The mood was relaxed, yet festive. Soon after the event began, families were the majority of the crowd. Manassas resident Andrea Humberton, 36, brought along her daughter, Lainie Humberton, 5, to take in some of the games and food.

“We’ve been snowed-in for two weeks, and we wanted to get out and have some fun,” she said. “This is good for us. Lainie’s been having fun.”

Although the City Council refused the let the event happen outside last year, it voted 4-2 in favor of it in February. The festival met opposition from Christian activists who said it did not uphold the city’s moral standards. Before last year, Mardi Gras was held outside the two previous years. No one at the event publicly opposed it.

“The controversy is ridiculous. People are out and having fun,” Andrea Humberton said. “This is Manassas city. It’s a good old-fashioned small town. When they do things here, it’s always fun. There are more important things to worry about that people coming out to have fun; especially with the state of the world.”

Lainie Humberton partook in one of the many children’s games, which included “Quack Attack” and “Plinko.” Winners took home prizes like beads, candy and stuffed animals.

Staged by Fat Tuesday Productions — owned by Okra’s Louisiana Bistro co-owner Charles Gilliam — the event was met with a positive response by many in attendance. He estimated total attendance near 2,500 people.

Near the adult entertainment area, behind the Center for the Arts, people stood drinking beer, listening to music and talking.

Mike Lopp, 40, dressed in shorts and wearing more than 100 beads of all colors, said he has lots of fun going to various Mardi Gras events, and this one was no different. He said he’s been to local events and gone as far as “Fantasy Fest” in Key West Florida.

“I like this. It’s a good crowd and there’s good people here,” said the Manassas resident. “It’s fun to go out and meet people. I’m glad the whole controversy thing with this is over. I haven’t seen any trouble. Everyone is having fun.”

Mike Semko, 31, who grew-up in New Orleans — a 1,058-mile drive from Manassas — and now works in Manassas, said the event was fun. He also said Mardi Gras in New Orleans has a bad reputation and it can be unjustified.

“I read about the controversy here and I understand everyone’s concern. Mardi Gras outside of the French Quarter is very family-oriented, but the focus is on Bourbon Street there and that’s where all the stories come from.” he said. “It’s cool what they’re doing here.”

Before his band. “Less Traveled,” hit the stage, drummer/manager Bruce Guttridge, said the event was excellent for the community. Although the band had a show to play in Reston later in the evening, Guttridge said they wanted to do the show and have a good time.

“This is the type of cultural event Old Town needs, and it really opens things up here,” said the Manassas resident. “Bringing back the festive feature of Manassas can only help, especially in these times. Old Town is a diamond in the rough.”

Staff writer Christian Czerwinski can be reached (703) 878-8074.

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