OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. (WLOX) - Mardi Gras preparations are underway, but this season will be unlike any other. COVID-19 is forcing city leaders and krewes to cancel parades, balls and other traditions that South Mississippians have come to love.
The Blackwater Brass Band is an eight-piece funk and jazz band that says is heavily influenced by New Orleans-style funk mainstays. Now, the band is stepping up in an effort to keep the spirit of the season alive.
“Mardi Gras is our big boom every year,” explained drummer Gary Cooper. “With COVID and everything all year, we were like ‘We’re going to miss out on Mardi Gras!’ So Mondo really came through big time. We’re all excited.”
Cooper is one of the founding members of the Coast group but it was his friend and bandmate who came up with the idea of Buskin’ the Coast.
Trombone player Elmer Belmonte - better known as Mondo to his friends - wanted to do something to celebrate Mardi Gras and spread joy during the season. After discussing the idea with a few bandmates, the group decided to perform a handful of times in local businesses in Jackson, Harrison, and Hancock counties.
”Keeping the spirit alive is very, very important and I think the success for me will just be in knowing on the very last drumbeat, when the last horn is tooted, we went and brought a little bit of Mardi Gras to all those who really might not have had a chance to listen to a second line this year,” said Belmonte.
While the large crowds and lavish parades won’t happen this year, the Mardi Gras music will still be kept alive.
”Music is such a humongous component of the Mardi Gras season,” said singer Brandon Kenyon. “So we at the very least are going to be bringing the Mardi Gras spirit by playing the tunes that everyone knows and loves and expects to hear every year.”
The group is also hopeful to help the businesses they are performing at. Usually, Mardi Gras is a time where businesses see a boost. With that not set to happen in the same way this year, the group hopes their appearance and music will draw extra customers to local establishments.
”The Gulf Coast along with everyone else has definitely taken a big hit in 2020 with live music and our restaurants and service industry,” said Kenyon. “They have supported us from the conception of our band so we’re happy to be able to contribute a little bit on one day of the year and kind of come up with a creative way to support those who have supported us.”
The concerts - which will span the Gulf Coast - are set to happen on Fat Tuesday, which is Feb. 16th this year. The band will play at 11 a.m. at Mosaics in Ocean Springs, then move to The Blind Tiger in Biloxi at 12:30 p.m. From there, they will go to B’Lux at 2 p.m., then on to Gulfport at 3:30 p.m. for a performance at Chandeleur Island Brewing. After that, they head to Pass Christian to The Whiskey Bar at 5 p.m. and the Blind Tiger in Bay St. Louis at 6:30 p.m. The group will then finish up the night with a full show from 8:30-10:30 p.m. at Felix’s in Gulfport.