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Weather puts chill on Mardi Gras festivities

The band Relapse performs on the main stage on Pine Avenue during Saturday's street festival.

The band Relapse performs on the main stage on Pine Avenue during Saturday's street festival.

ALBANY, Ga. -- The 11th Annual Mardi Gras Street Festival in Downtown Albany had a lot to offer Saturday. There was no shortage of first-class rock 'n' roll, country and jazz groups: Relapse, Southern Arts Music Ensemble, Rollin in the Hay, Dusty Boots, the Bo Henry Band and others, performing just outside the Herald building on Pine Avenue.

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Joe Bellacomo

Terry Kemp, 10, samples some of the food offered by Cherokee Cuisine on Front Street during Saturday's street festival.

The landscape fairly swarmed with vendors -- food especially -- including funnel cakes, sausage dogs, barbecued ribs, pizza, pastries, pork skins and seafood. Those inclined could buy a beer or soft drink. But the greatest-selling beverage seemed to be hot chocolate and the hottest non-food items were knit toboggan caps. It was a cold day at the Mardi Gras Festival.

"I've been watching the weather for two weeks now," said Ernest Sampah, owner of Red, Gold and Green, selling T-shirts, jewelry and most importantly, knitted headgear. "I don't want it to get too cold, though. Then everyone would go home."

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Joe Bellacomo

Five-year-old Raylee Hoey performs as part of the Josette Dance Company entertainment outside the Flint RiverQuarium during Saturday's street festival.

Patrick Branson with Cherokee Cuisine, selling gyros, sausage dogs and blooming onions, came quickly to the point.

"There's nobody here to buy it," Branson said, and it was hardly an exaggeration.

At mid-afternoon, with the temperature stable at around 42 degrees, attendees might have been more likely to trip on a jack rabbit or a tumble weed before bumping elbows with another person. Royce Wilkes has sold hot dogs, Philly sandwiches and more at every single Mardi Gras, he said, and managed to maintain his optimism.

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Joe Bellacomo

Turtle Race Coordinator Vicki Churchman sorts winning turtles during the Flint RiverQuarium's turtle race fundraiser Saturday. Beverly Ziemiecki was the $5,000 grand prize winner.

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Joe Bellacomo

The band Rollin' in the Hay performs on the main stage on Pine Avenue during Saturday's street festival.

"Surprisingly enough, there'll be a lot more people here tonight," Wilkes said. "You have to take it as it comes. You get to meet so many nice people here each year."

The show must go on, of course, but as the mercury headed south toward an expected 29 degrees, human throngs seemed doubtful. The event was scheduled to continue until midnight.

The cold didn't numb the hands of drummers in the Good Life Drum Circle. The dozen or so members could be seen and heard pounding simple rhythms on their primitive instruments.

"Everybody in this world has one thing in common," said Michael Harper, facilitator of the group. "Your mother's heart taught your heart how to beat. When you drum, your brain slows down to the rhythm that we're beating and allows whole-brain thinking."

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Joe Bellacomo

The band Rollin' in the Hay performs on the main stage on Pine Avenue during Saturday's street festival.

photo

Joe Bellacomo

Benny Lomineck plays bass guitar with the band Relapse on the main stage on Pine Avenue during Saturday's street festival.

Anne Gray, her husband, Randy, and eight-year-old granddaughter, Emily Scarborough dressed warmly and braved the unexpected cold.

"We like to support the local vendors and listen to the music," Anne Gray said, "I just hope people don't get sick. I see a lot of people who aren't dressed right for the cold. They're not prepared."

Beverly Ziemiecki endured the frosty weather and was rewarded with $5,000 for her dedication. She took the grand prize in the Flint RiverQuarium Turtle Race. Ten thousand rubber sun glass-wearing turtles were launched down the spillway of the structure, with the opportunity for previous "adoption" by festival attendees. Proceeds were to go toward support of the RiverQuarium.