Mardi Gras — that special time of year when drunken debauchery, public nudity and all manner of overindulgence is not only permitted, but encouraged. Problem is, we live Northeast Florida, a nine-hour drive from The Big Easy.
Musician and promoter Cyrus G. Quaranta wants to change that. Not our geographical location, of course, but in the spirit of Fat Tuesday, Quaranta has put together an evening of debauchery all his own. On Sunday (just two days before the real Mardi Gras), the Mardi Gras Masquerade Party is set for 8 p.m. to midnight at Underbelly Downtown.
The night begins innocuously enough, with Quaranta and Tom Bennett on dueling pianos. Of course, with partially nude male and female models in body paint, a fire-eater and costumed guests filtering into the premises, the tameness won’t last long. The duo is followed by Jacksonville’s Mondo Mike & the Po Boys, an R&B and blues ensemble featuring Quaranta on keys and guest vocalist Spice.
“Mike [Bernos] is originally from New Orleans,” says Quaranta. “Born and raised. His band is an original blues-rock band, New Orleans-inspired.”
Also on the bill: 12-person band Eclectic Soul, DJ Giz-Roc and a live Chilleasy Podcast with guest David Luckin (from WJCT’s Electro Lounge.) Massage therapists, clothing vendors and the Funkadelic Food Truck, providing Cajun cuisine, are on hand, too.
The party culminates in an open-jam drum-and-horn line, during which musicians can join in the parade-style merriment. Admission to the event is free, and masks will be provided at the door for those who wish to protect their anonymity.
If you want to get warmed up for the Mardi Gras party, a trip to the Burro Bar on Feb. 27 might be in order. There shall play Seattle’s Dusty 45s, which should be, if you’re inclined toward bluesy jazz, rockabilly, surf rock and the dead-on swing of “Minnie the Moocher,” right up your filthy alley. These guys are polished, seasoned musicians, a hit on the summer festival lineups.
And if, for some reason, the music doesn’t get you — which it should — bandleader Billy Joe Huels, blond pompadour standing tall, sets the bell of his trumpet aflame during the finale. Inhaling while playing is quite perilous, to be sure, but Huels says that he studied how to do it safely and that it adds a touch of vaudeville to the show.
The Dusty 45s are no strangers to the road, a touring ensemble of the thick-skinned variety. As a testament to their stature, the 45s were chosen in 2011 to back rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson, whose career was resurrected when she hooked up with Jack White, who produced her album The Party Ain’t Over. There were no reports that Billy Joe set Wanda on fire during the tour.