The city of Albany, and particularly businesses located in the downtown district, probably didn't realize it at the time, but the storm system that washed out the city's Mardi Gras celebration March 3 turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Downtown businesses had an "OK" day during the rainy Albany Marathon and SB&T Bike Race weekend, which still brought hundreds into the city, but last Saturday's rescheduled Mardi Gras event turned into a bonanza for the community, and especially downtown.
By pushing Mardi Gras back a week, its day of musical performances coincided with a pair of concerts scheduled not two blocks away from the West Broad Avenue gathering. Some worried that there might be "too much of a good thing" with all three music-themed events taking place simultaneously, but they couldn't have been more wrong.
Mardi Gras officials estimate more than 38,000 people showed up on an ideal day that featured better-than-expected weather. Meanwhile, a crowd in excess of 5,000 came to the Albany Civic Center to watch Keith Sweat, the Manhattans, T.K. Soul and Wilson Meadows perform at R&B Soulfest 2012. And one block over and another up at the State Theatre, a packed house enjoyed the music of Albany favorite Corey Smith.
Worry about saturation was obviously needless, offering proof that well-promoted, quality entertainment can indeed succeed in Albany. Many involved say the musical events may have actually added to the Mardi Gras crowd and vice versa.
The region has, in the last couple of years, grown accustomed to the huge impact of what many have dubbed a "rock, roll and ride weekend" that features the marathon and half-marathon, bike races and the Mardi Gras celebration. And with participation in the races now surpassing 2,000, dozens of riders competing in the bike races and tens of thousands coming downtown for the fun of Mardi Gras, few local events have a greater economic impact.
But the success of this year's weather-induced, one-week-later Mardi Gras -- and its inadvertent same-day musical events at the Civic Center and the State -- should convince officials to at least consider spreading these premiere events over two weekends. Planners could easily enhance what they do for the athletes during marathon/bike race weekend and then have a logistically easier task of planning for the Mardi Gras celebration.
Certainly the bottlenecks that developed around various vendors' booths as Mardi Gras attendance swelled Saturday evening are evidence that the usage of more space would be a welcome change.
Weather worries will always be a part of any planned outdoors event ... there's no controlling Mother Nature, no matter how many meteorologists are involved. This year's hard rains that left more than 1,700 runners drenched added an element of danger to the break-neck bike races and also forced the rescheduling of Mardi Gras, however, turned out to be serendipitous rather than devastating.
Perhaps city officials should take that into account as they put together plans for 2013.
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board