Asheville Mardi Gras, a community-based arts and culture collective, will be rolling its 12th annual parade through the streets of South Slope on Sunday, March 3.
Each year, a royal couple is chosen to lead the procession. In January, AMG holds a 12th Night celebration, marking the last day of Christmas and the coming of Epiphany. At the party, guests are served king cake — a confection associated with Epiphany and Mardi Gras and its counterpart, Carnival. A small, plastic baby is baked inside one slice of the cake, and it’s AMG’s tradition that whoever gets the piece of cake containing the baby is granted the status of Mardi Gras royalty.
This year, that person was Elizabeth “Eboo” Sauls, who then selected a royal partner. She decided to take on the role of Mardi Gras King and chose Nicole White to be her queen. This is the first time in Asheville Mardi Gras history that the crowned royals are a same-sex couple. Both Sauls and White are members of Asheville Second Line, a New-Orleans-style band that supports Mardi Gras events throughout the year.
Sauls, White and Asheville Second Line will make up the royal “krewe” — an organization or group that takes part in the parade together. For 2019, the royal krewe chose a Viking theme for its float.
“The fact that we have two female royals this year is emblematic of how accepting Asheville Mardi Gras is,” says Michael Franco, Asheville Mardi Gras’ communications director. “As a social group, it’s a great place for people to find a home regardless of age, orientation or where they’re from.”
When Franco and his wife moved to town five years ago from Prague, Czech Republic, they found Asheville Mardi Gras within their first year. “It was really a life raft — a great way to connect to a community of fun, intelligent and creative people,” he says.
While Asheville Mardi Gras is no Bourbon Street counterpart (there’s no nudity or alcohol at the family-friendly festivities), this year’s parade theme is Wild, Wild Asheville. It “leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which is perfect for such a creative city,” says Diane Curry, Asheville Mardis Gras’ executive committee chair. “It can refer to the wild spirit Ashevilleans embrace, the wild nature that surrounds our mountain town or the wild ingredients found in our beers and food.”
Franco adds that themes are meant to inspire without being too specific. He, for one, is expecting to see some interpretations include wild animal and exotic plant costumes. Some past themes have included French Broads and Odd Fellows in 2013, Saints vs. Sinners in 2016, and, last year, AsheVillage People.
Although the city has grown tremendously, Franco says the parade’s spirit has remained intact and has increased in popularity. He expects around 30 krewes to participate, making this year the biggest parade to date. Some of the krewes include radio station 98.1 The River, listening room Ambrose West and The Beer City Sisters, “a group of 21st-century nuns dedicated to the promulgation of universal joy and the expiation of stigmatic guilt,” according to the group’s website. A new addition this year is the Buncombe County Library, “which adds a nice community flavor to the parade,” notes Franco.
Also on the parade roster: dance performance outfit Liquid Sirens. Group member Crystal Edwards says the performers are going with a cabaret-inspired theme. “We love the energy surrounding Asheville Mardi Gras and look forward to sharing some dancing, pizazz and love of our community during the parade,” she says.
Morgan Richard Swilling, events director of the Blue Ridge Pride Center, is part of the Rainbows Gone Wild Krewe — a joint effort between the center and O. Henry’s, the oldest gay bar in Asheville. From that group, expect a truck decked out in rainbows, pride flags and “music with dancing drag queens and lots of rainbow beads to hand out.”
After the parade, spectators and participants can continue the fun at the Queen’s Ball, held at The Century Room at Pack’s Tavern, 5-10 p.m. There, an award will be given for best costume in the parade. This free event includes music from funk outfit Boogi Therapi and blues- and soul-rockers Pleasure Chest.
WHAT: Asheville Mardi Gras parade
WHERE: Starting at Federal Alley, South Slope neighborhood, ashevillemardigras.org
WHEN: Sunday, March 3, 3:05 p.m., free