Hi all! As I write this, this past Tuesday was “Fat Tuesday,” Mardi Gras 2023, and ever since I fell in love with Cajun music and culture 20+ years ago, we have always tried to celebrate the day the way the Cajuns do. Here are some words I got off the internet about the “Mamou Mardi Gras Run,” which explains how it all works as well as I can:
“Courir de Mardi Gras” – Begging for gumbo ingredients
Traditionally known as Courir de Mardi Gras (courir is French for “run” or “chase”), festivities occur in towns throughout central Louisiana’s Cajun Country. Rooted in French medieval history and brought to Louisiana in the 19th century, Courir de Mardi Gras has many rituals that come together in a celebration on Fat Tuesday, sometimes referred to as “the real Mardi Gras.”
The main event in a Cajun Country Mardi Gras is the traditional courir or “run” led by the capitaine of the Mardi Gras. “Krewes” of costumed and masked participants on horseback, foot or trailer make their way through the neighborhood performing another ancient ritual: begging. In Tee-Mamou, the capitaine raises a flag to let Mardi Gras runners know to dismount their horses and approach the house, chanting a traditional “begging song” called Le Chanson de Mardi Gras.
Communities throughout Louisiana’s central prairies have their own particular take on Courir de Mardi Gras. In general, though, revelers go from house to house singing and dancing for the owners in order to get different ingredients for a communal gumbo to be served later that evening. The last ingredient, and the highlight of the entire celebration, is the chicken. All attention is on that chicken, so it’s a thrill to watch costumed revelers chase after that chicken, the highlight of the communal gumbo.
OK, well this is a bit of a “cleaned up” version of a Mardi Gras run, but it gives you the general idea. Mardi Gras runners dress in colorful “rag” costumes with pointy hats and masks made of window screening with long pointy noses. The costumes date way back to the middle ages and are meant to poke fun at the French “elites.” One important aspect that the above description leaves out is that the whole run is fueled by alcohol! Visualize a guy dressed in one of these rag costumes, jumping off his horse and chasing a chicken that was just thrown out an upstairs window after consuming 10 or 12 Bud Lights and you get the idea!
We went down to southwest Louisiana for Mardi Gras around 2006 to experience the Church Point “run” which was touted as one of the best. We took a week for this adventure and arrived several days ahead of time. There are lots and lots of pre-MG festivities and we ate and danced at Mulate’s in Breaux Bridge, danced at the Liberty Theater in Eunice, went to a Mardi Gras party at Larry Miller’s (Cajun accordion maker) in Iona, and finally made it to Church Point for the “parade” on Tuesday afternoon. People start setting up along Main Street before dawn in order to get a “good seat” for the parade. This was like a “tailgate party” on steroids!! Lots of food, lots of beer, one guy was slow cooking a whole pig on a spit with a “portable” cooker right on the sidewalk!
And then the “run” made it into the home stretch! There were lots of runners on horseback and tractors pulling trailers, some with Cajun bands, but all full of folks throwing Mardi Gras beads to the “audience”. We didn’t stick around for gumbo. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think there was another party that night, aieeeee!! Suffice it to say I, for one, had a great time and “Mardi Gras” all of a sudden had a new meaning for me!
So with that in mind, we’ve always tried to celebrate Mardi Gras the Cajun way up here in Maine. We did the best we could to sew our own MG costumes. Here’s a video of a concert we did at the Skye Theater in South Carthage, Maine on Mardi Gras 2014. This set starts off with the Mardi Gras Song. Some of the words in the song date back 600 years!! Of course, we are wearing our “outfits.”
Finally, Here’s the video of the online Mardi Gras concert we did this year. We had Mitch Reed join us on fiddle and Elna Joseph on bass. As Pam says, this is a “special edition” of our weekly Tuesday mini-concert jam session. Nico the dog makes a few appearances and Mitch’s whole family is there to with Jen sitting in on Ti-Fer for a couple songs…aieeeee
The CONTINUING TRADITION Number 13
CAJUN MARDI GRAS