Happy Fat Tuesday: Celebrate & Learn About the Cultural Roots of Mardi Gras

Happy Fat Tuesday!

It may be business as usual here in New England, but way down south in New Orleans they are having a huge party! Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday) has arrived, and the whole city is celebrating! The traditions of Mardi Gras take all forms, and encompass everything from cake to sequins in an all-out celebration of local culture.

Mardi Gras’ roots lie in Catholicism, as the day after Mardi Gras- Ash Wednesday – begins the season of Lent, wherein members of the church give up certain indulgences until Easter Sunday. In order to prepare for Lent, New Orleanians celebrate like mad and spend a day truly enjoying all of the good things in life. Mardi Gras is perhaps best known for its parades filled with outrageous floats, unbelievable costumes, and lavish decorations and embellishments. In addition to these events, Mardi Gras brings together beignets and King Cake, Cajun and Zydeco music, Native American traditions, and thousands of strings of beads to create one of the most fascinating celebrations in America. Click here for online resources…

HFVS Mardi Gras Episode with Guest DJs, Johnette Downing & Scott Billington (Radio Show/Podcast)

Mardi Gras Episode
with Guest DJs, Johnette Downing & Scott Billington


Children’s book author and musician Johnette Downing and Grammy Award winning producer Scott Billington offer a carnival of Louisiana roots music; a showcase of Cajun, New Orleans Rhythm and Blues, Zydeco, Brass Band and Jazz music by Louisiana artists.

Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am
Feb 9th & 10th, 2013
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

Featured video: Reading Rocks! By Johnette Downing Children’s book author and musician Johnette Downing sings “Reading Rocks!” from her Reading Rocks! CD to get children boppin’ into books and rockin’ into reading! – www.johnettedowning.com

 Archived Podcasts Radio  Facebook Twitter


  • Professor Longhair – “Go to the Mardi Gras” (The Complete Ric & Ron Recordings,
  • Vol. 6: Classic New Orleans R&B and More, 1958-1965)
  • The Hawkettes – “Mardi Gras Mambo” (The History of Rhythm & Blues, Volume 3 –
  • The Rock’n’roll Years)
  • Zachary Richard – “File’ Gumbo” (Zack’s Bon Ton)
  • Johnette Downing – “Bon Jour Mes Amis,” (From the Gumbo Pot)
  • Papillion – “Cocodrie” (Cajun for Kids)
  • Johnette Downing – “Why the Possum Has a Large Grin,” (Reading Rocks!)
  • Huey Smith and the Clowns – “Don’t You Just Know It” (Having a Good Time With
  • Huey ‘Piano’ Smith & His Clowns – The Very Best of, Vol. 1)
  • Robert Parker – “Barefootin’” (Introduction to Robert Parker)
  • Fats Domino – “Walkin’ to New Orleans” (The Fats Domino Jukebox: 20 Greatest
  • Hits)
  • Nathan the the Zydeco Cha Chas – “Festival Zydeco” (Creole Crossroads)
  • Dirty Dozen Brass Band – “Little Liza Jane” (My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now)
  • Johnette Downing and Jimmy LaRocca’s Original Dixieland Jazz Band – “Dixieland
  • Jazz” (Dixieland Jazz for Children)
  • Louie Prima – “Banana Split for My Baby,” (Louis Prima Collectors Series)
  • Louis Armstrong – “What a Wonderful World,” (What a Wonderful World)
  • Johnette Downing and Jimmy LaRocca’s Original Dixieland Jazz Band – “It’s Time for
  • Mardi Gras,” (Dixieland Jazz for Children)

About Johnette Downing

Dubbed the “Musical Ambassador to Children” and the “Pied Piper of Louisiana Music Traditions,” Johnette Downing is a multi-award winning children’s book author and musician performing concerts and author visits for children, and workshops and keynote for educators globally. Dedicated to celebrating childhood, sharing cultures and fostering literacy through her music, books and programs, Johnette has performed in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Central America, North America and the Caribbean, has received twenty-one awards and has received rave reviews in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Disney Family Fun Magazine, Parenting Magazine, Parents Magazine and many more.

Scott Billington

Scott Billington is a musician, writer and Grammy® Award winning record producer. With a discography of over 100 albums of roots-based music, Scott has received the Porretta (Italy) Sweet Soul Music Award, the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award, and the Offbeat (New Orleans) Lifetime Achievement Award. His records have garnered a total of ten Grammy® nominations, along with awards from the French Academie du Jazz, Living Blues magazine and many others. His writing has appeared in the Oxford American, Gambit, the Boston Globe and numerous other publications. Scott’s harmonica playing has been featured on albums by artists as diverse as Appalachian folk singer Hazel Dickens, rockabilly musician Sleepy LaBeef and soul singer Irma Thomas.

Mardi Gras Costume Exhibit in the Hilltowns

Mardi Gras Costume Exhibit
During Winklepicker Festival in Ashfield
Feb. 17-18, 2012

Mardi Gras is incredibly rich in culture, a fact that sets it apart from the majority of other American celebrations; a visit Winklepicker Festival's Mardi Gras Costume Exhibit can supplement studies of American culture, fashion, costume design, sewing, or art. Opening night: Friday, Feb. 16th at 7pm.

In New England, costumes are generally reserved for Halloween (and maybe the occasional themed party).  In New Orleans, however, costumes play an incredibly important role in the celebration of Mardi Gras.  Families can learn about costume culture and creation at the Winklepicker Festival’s costume exhibit coming to Ashfield, MA on February 17th-19th, 2012!

The festival’s theme is Mardi Gras, as both events happen on the same weekend this year, and there will be Mardi Gras-style events taking place all weekend.  Included in the events is the opportunity to visit an exhibit about the serious art of Mardi Gras costuming.  The pieces created and worn vary greatly- as there is never one theme for the festival (outfits can be as outlandish as a wearable clawfoot tub!).  Costumes are worn throughout Mardi Gras for parades and balls (held by groups called krewes).  But it’s not just the wearing of the costume that is significant.  Participants spend all year making their outfits and will pay hundreds of dollars for materials- costumes are incredibly intricate, elaborate, and are seeped creativity.

On display during the costume exhibit will be handmade costumes worn by members of a few different Mardi Gras krewes,  and many handmade masks, as well as photos and videos of costumes and traditional Mardi Gras celebrations.

Opening night is Friday, Feb. 16th where there will be a presentation on costuming with Nancy Werner.  Beginning at 7pm, the opening will include an informal discussion of costuming techniques and costume culture– attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and will learn from firsthand experiences.

Mardi Gras is incredibly rich in culture, a fact that sets it apart from the majority of other American celebrations; a visit to the exhibit can supplement studies of American culture, fashion, costume design, sewing, or art.  In addition to opening night, the gallery will be open on Saturday, Feb 17th from 10am-5pm and Sunday, Feb 18th from 1-5pm. For more information call Nan at 413-628-4003

PARENTS’ NIGHT OUT: Mardi Gras Ball with Buckwheat Zydeco in the Hilltowns!

Winklepicker Festival
Mardi Gras Ball w/ Buckwheat Zydeco
& After-Party w/ The Primate Fiasco
Saturday, Feb 18th @ 7pm in Ashfield, MA

Winklepicker Festival's Mardi Gras Ball with Buckwheat Zydeco at the Ashfield Town Hall (412 Main Street), followed by an after-party with The Primate Fiasco, happens on Feb 18th! Deadline to enter to win: 2/15. Details below.

Continuing our Parents’ Night Out promotions, Hilltown Families has a pair of tickets to giveaway to one very lucky couple to the Winklepicker Festival Mardi Gras Ball with Buckwheat Zydeco at the Ashfield Town Hall (412 Main Street), followed by an after-party with The Primate Fiasco next door at Elmer’s, in Ashfield, MA on Saturday, February 18th at 7pm. Deadline to enter to win: 2/15. Details below.


Italy has Carnivale, Brazil has the same. Germany has Fasching, New Orleans has Mardi Gras… Ashfield has Winklepicker! – And while those other festivals are all tied to the last possible blow-out moments before the contemplative days of Lent, out here in the Protestant hinterlands, Winklepicker is tied to the hardest part of the year – when the novelty of winter has worn off, warmth is still half a globe-turn away and you’d like something to do besides plow snow and rake roofs.

Winklepicker stirs all the warmth of music, dancing, community, eating and drinking up together in one big, roiling pot. Winklepicker celebrates warmth and fun in the coldest, plainest days of the year. This inaugural year, the third weekend of February also turned out to be the weekend that precedes the above celebrated festivals, and the theme of Mardi Gras in New Orleans was picked as the inaugural theme for the weekend.

This year’s festival includes: Creole Cooking Workshop; Exhibit of Mardi Gras costumes; Mardi Gras Kids Music Camp; Concert with Chris Smither; Gospel Brunch; and a Mardi Gras Ball with Buckwheat Zydeco (after-party with The Primate Fiasco). Find out more at www.winklepickerfest.com.


Grammy Award-winning American musical legend, Louisiana vocalist, and accordion and organ master Buckwheat Zydeco is the preeminent ambassador of Louisiana zydeco music. The New York Times says, “Stanley ‘Buckwheat’ Dural leads one of the best bands in America. A down-home and high-powered celebration, meaty and muscular with a fine-tuned sense of dynamics…propulsive rhythms, incendiary performances.” This high-energy band will lead a night of dancing and Mardi Gras revelry that you won’t want to miss, so put on your dancing shoes and join Buckwheat Zydeco as he heats up Ashfield Town Hall. Then stay for the After Party with The Primate Fiasco. The Ball begins at 7pm; after party at 9:30pm. – Not familiar with Buckwheat Zydeco, sample his music here… but be sure to put on your dancing shoes first!


Your chance to win a pair of tickets to the WinklePicker Festival Mardi Gras Ball with Buckwheat Zydeco at the Ashfield Town Hall (412 Main Street),  followed by an after-party with The Primate Fiasco next door in Ashfield, MA, on Saturday, February 18th at 7pm is easy & simple!  To enter to win simply:

  • CONSIDER SHARING ON FACEBOOK by selecting “Like” below
  • TELL US HOW HILLTOWN FAMILIES HELPS YOUR FAMILY SHAKE OFF THE WINTER BLUES below (one entry per household) and be sure to tell us your
  • FULL NAME (first/last) and where you
  • LIVE (TOWN/STATE) must include your town to be eligible.
  • ACCURATE EMAIL (we never share your email address).
  • We’ll randomly draw a winner and will share the results below.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline to enter to win is Wednesday, 02/15/12 @ 7pm (EST)

Tickets at Turn It Up!, World Eye Books, Boswell’s Books, Elmer’s Store & online at mightyalbert.com. For more info call 413-628-4003.

A Day in the Life of Mardi Gras: Tucks on Napoleon Avenue

Fat Tuesday!

So, when you think, “Nan is down in New Orleans for Mardi Gras!” you are probably not thinking, “Babysitting!” But I am today! Nina and Lola and their friend Lily are all under my care today while their parents are down selling their leather Mardi Gras masks in the French Market. I had things to do today—finish sewing my costume in time for tonight’s Bal Masque, for example, so I volunteered to stay home and watch the little children.

Before the parents left I asked them for all the things the girls had to do. Here are the things they have to do:

  1. Eat
  2. Stay out of the street.

That seems to be it. That leaves a whole world of other things to do:

  1. Take the streetcar down to Napoleon Avenue
  2. Go to a Mardi Gras Parade, as long as (refer to 2 above) they stay out of the street!

So here were my little charges:

Lola, Lily and Nina, happily minding their own business, reading books like the respectable citizens they are.

Realizing that Tucks, the Mardi Gras parade Krewe that was originally organized by college boys was about to roll, we grabbed our shoes and tore off to catch the streetcar and head down to Napoleon Avenue. (But we stayed out of the street.)

Lesson learned: If you take a four-year-old out without a Kleenex in your pocket, you will end up with snot on your jeans.

We got on the streetcar and rode to Napoleon Avenue without incident (save for the runny nose incident.)

When we got there Tucks was on parade and beads were flying:

Then the last float of Tucks passed and it began to rain. We ran across Napoleon to the church where they just happened to be painting faces and selling candy! (Refer to Mandate 1 above—they must eat.)

The girls got painted up (note spoils of the parade around their necks, along with the bag-full of more stuff they caught.) and, with the rain increasing to drowning levels, we raced back to the streetcar, (out of the street) and waited in the pouring rain until the next streetcar came. Then the rain got really heavy so that we could barely see out the streetcar windows. The little girls struck up a conversation with a Tulane University girl, that ended with them all singing rousing songs in French. We reached our stop (I was the lookout) and, when the little girls got up to get off the streetcar, everyone burst into cheers for them and their French songs. We jumped off the street car into the mud (but not into the street) and raced into the Rite Aid store, to get out of the rain and into the freezing cold air conditioning.

Then the rain turned to flooding and, answering a phone call from the parents who said they had to come home due to torrential rain, flooding and the threat of tornadoes, we gave our position and they agreed to come and pick us up.

And then we came home and got to eat dinner.

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, the day itself and I am ready! And will thus be going to bed very soon in order to get up early enough to do the whole day properly.



Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”  nanparati@aol.com

Sustainable Solutions: Ball Point Pen Drive (…only in Ashfield!)

Notes from Nan: Help Support the Elmer’s Ball Point Pen Drive!
BY HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

Every morning we start out with a stack of ballpoint pens for the waitresses to use and every night they’re gone. We think we know where they are.

We think you got ‘em.

We think you take them home with you. (Look in your car. Look in your pocket. Look in your hair and behind your ears. See? You got ‘em.)

So we would like for you to go through your junk drawer and pull out all the pens that are in there that you haven’t used in 15 years and bring them back to us! And then, when you sign your credit card slip, you can forget and take it home with you again! And we will continue to recycle pens throughout the town for years and years! It’s a perfect sustainable solution!  Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: