FINE ISLAND FINALE/Perfect day ends Mardi Gras
By MARTY RACINE, CHERYL LAIRD, Staff
It was some party.
Showered by beads, doubloons, confetti and great music, an estimated 380,000 turned the second week of Mardi Gras into a festive occasion Saturday on The Strand in Galveston.
Unlike the windblown Seawall carnival the weekend before, and despite a smaller attendance than last year's, The Strand's three-story Greek Revival brick buildings offered the kind of historic ambience and romance that frames the heart of this tradition-laden event.
It was a day for love, for laughter, for painted behavior, one day out of the march of time to be intoxicated with life itself.
From 23rd and Strand, a sea of heads was visible for blocks in every direction. It's a good thing, for morning act Joe "King" Carrasco did his usual "crowd thing" from that corner and jumped into the arms of his fans from the Headliner Stage, merely 25 feet off the ground.
He survived, but his guitar didn't. Later, Carrasco accidentally dropped his Fender, breaking only the head, as he stood on the ledge of the balcony. "I told him not to tempt it," said drummer Angelo Giovanni, obviously in vain.
The air was so celebratory that even fistfights didn't last. In the 21st block of The Strand, a couple of blokes swung wildly and cursed mightily at each other before the police promptly and efficiently broke up the argument.
Overnight Galveston police reported two shootings and more than 60 arrests, a decline from last year, officials said.
Mardi Gras organizers should be commended for the superb music this year. Last weekend, Joe Ely delivered a blistering, no-holds-barred set. And the Texas Tornados were also in the mood, despite the weather and a preoccupied crowd.
San Francisco's Robert Cray, nominated this year to his sixth Grammy for the album "I Was Warned," was a splendid choice for Saturday's 4 p.m. slot. But while he was funky enough, his drawling blues ballads did nothing to heighten the atmosphere. Frankly, the man sounded bored -- it's not the first time we've seen this lackadaisical approach -- and his smooth grooves never rose to the occasion.
Best of the set was "Strong Persuader."
Instead, the afternoon and the souls of thousands belonged to Los Lobos , the California Chicano band that has the broadest range and rootsiest ties in rock 'n' roll. They were so hot, they played on for 90 minutes, breaking the schedule by half an hour.
Cesar Rosas, David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano and Louie Perez trotted out the hard-driving rock 'n' roll at the expense of their folkloric material. Working up an unhinged rhythm punctuated by slashing guitar, Los Lobos let it flow with masterful versions of "Evangeline," "How Will the Wolf Survive," "Short Side of Nothing," "Dream in Blue," "Whiskey Trail" and "Don't Worry Baby."
But the hou-dah was really rolling in several exotic, percussive jams that filtered into the sun-splashed haze, especially during "One Time One Night in America' and "Rain, Rain, Rain.". Sounding almost like the Grateful Dead, Los Lobos opened the songs to the angels and exposed them to a spontaneous, effervescent flair.
"Is this a party or what?" Rosas exclaimed.
You know it, dude.
The Grateful Dead-like music was headed somewhere, and it arrived in a richly deserving encore of -- what else? -- the Dead's "Bertha," which Los Lobos contributed to the fine compilation CD "Deadicated."
From there, band members were off to Intercontinental Airport. Their party had begun the night before, when they spent Friday on the island.
Even the secondary stages were aptly appointed. Eternal Houston revelers Pierre & the Zydeco Dots were at 22nd and Strand, and "nuclear polka" world-beatsters Brave Combo from Denton occupied 21st and Strand. The former stage was too close to the Headliner Stage, but the latter was safely out of earshot.
Brave Combo even managed to get about 60 grown-ups to "shake it all about" on the "Hokey Pokey."
"The music was the perfect accessory to catching baubles and beads," said Howard Antelis, 33, of San Antonio.
Strands of plastic fruit beads were the hottest thing going this year. At one point on The Strand, the crowd was shouting "fruit, fruit, fruit."
Those throwing beads, including disc jockeys for The Box (97.9 FM), were encouraging women "to show some flesh" if they wanted beads. Some obliged.
At 4 p.m., a small plane buzzed The Strand, startling the crowd. The merrymaking stopped for a brief moment as the throng caught its collective breath.
Revelers' main complaints this year were long lines for the port-a-cans and sponsors' banners blocking the view of the bands on the balcony.
Some island residents also grumbled about the $10 admission to the Entertainment District. They said they pay taxes to help stage this event and should get a break.
And, of course, the traffic.
At least one partyer, Bruce Hilty, 37, traveled to the island by boat from Clear Lake. He stayed overnight on his boat to avoid the interstate.
Hours before the Momus Grand Night Parade, people started staking out the best bead-catching locations and setting up along The Strand
Then, as the clouds and a cool breeze broke up the surprisingly warm afternoon, the grooves gave way to the moves, as the marching bands stepped lively from the Seawall to The Strand.
There were 46 entries in all. As the procession passed in front of the Tremont House, even men in tuxedos, ensconced apart from the madding crowd outside the barricades, were cutting loose.
Their giddiness was matched by the statement on one guy's T-shirt.
"Stop all deh fussin' and fightin,' " it said.
I believe we did, there, for a moment.