Albany’s 13th Mardi Gras street festival will take place this Saturday along the 100 block of Pine Ave. in downtown Albany. (File photo)
ALBANY — Residents and visitors of all ages are expected to flock to downtown Albany Saturday for the annual Mardi Gras street festival, which has become the area’s unofficial kickoff for spring.
Started 13 years ago by business owners Bo Henry and Phil Cannon to showcase downtown Albany, the event has grown into an annual celebration which typically draws upwards of thousands into the community, said Tommy Gregors of Thronateeska Hertiage Center which spearheads the event.
“Thronateeska had historically done a street festival fundraiser, featuring Kinchafoonee Cowboys down here on the brick streets every year, and so we just saw an opportunity to partner and instead of trying to do several festivals throughout the year,” Gregors said. “We came up with a plan to merge everything together, to make it more successful for downtown. This has been very good, very successful for Albany. We’ve had as many as 40,000 people come to this.”
Gregors said that while Thronateeska puts in a lot of effort to make the festival a success, it’s really the work of a large group of volunteers, known as the Better Albany Group, that works with local officials to make the event happen.
“It takes lots of effort from volunteers,” said Gregors. “We formed a new group, called the Better Albany Group, just to hold the funds, but the key figures will be Bo and Phil Cannon and myself. We get much additional support from the CVB, we get support from the downtown manager’s office, the City of Albany, Dougherty County, all the agencies that you have to go across to make this happen. We have a good working relationship with all those folks.”
Gregors said throughout its history the event has been located in different locations of downtown, but this year will be held on the 100 block of Pine Ave. for the second time, which he said helps to draw crowds closer to some of Albany’s attractions while also making things a little easier logistically.
“We sort of tweaked it around and moved it,” Gregors said. “We have Turtle Park and the RiverQuarium so we needed to get it around our assets. It also gives us more space and flexibility. We’ll be primarily in the 100 block of Pine Ave. which is where the stage and vendors and festivities will be going on,” said Gregors. “The stage will be up next to The Albany Herald on the west end of Pine near Washington, then we’ll have vendors coming down both sides of Pine. We’ll have kids activities in the plaza in front of the RiverQuarium.”
In addition to kid-friendly activities like face-painting, a climbing wall and bouncy houses, the event will also feature an abundance of live music and more than 30 different vendors.
This year’s event will feature performances from The Evergreen Family Band, Evan Barber and the Dead Gamblers, the Southern Arts Music Ensemble, Relapse, the J Blues Band, Stephen Harrell and the Dusty Boots Band, the Bo Henry Band and the Jodi Mann Band.
The event will start at noon with a set from the Evergreen Family Band followed by a Pet Parade hosted by the Albany Humane Society at 1 p.m. The pet parade will feature a variety of animals and is also a good way to showcase one of the many non-profit organizations that provide volunteers for the event and benefit from the festival exposure.
In fact, Gregors said one of the aims of Mardi Gras is to not only raise awareness for local non-profits but to hopefully also raise some excess funds that can be donated to some of those groups.
According to Gregors, the majority of the proceeds of the event go into an account to fund the next year’s festivities, but often extra monies raised go to different organizations.
“Rather than having any of our businesses or organizations of individuals responsible financially if the event was rained out or something happened, we were able to set up a bank account for our seed money and protect that,” said Gregors. “We distribute any outside funds above what is needed to fund next year’s event to Thronateeska and other organizations in town. We’ve helped many non-profits that come out and commit volunteer hours to us. We’ve helped out the Albany Dougherty Rescue Team, the Humane Society, we’ve helped out Red Cross, numerous organizations and non-profits because this is not about any of us personally benefiting from the event.”
Gregors said that while it is nice to be able to help different organizations, the main purpose of the event is to raise the profile of Albany and bring attention to downtown, something he believes helps everyone.
“This is to help downtown, to showcase what we have in Albany,” Gregors said. “I think we’ve been successful in that. It’s great to showcase what we have. It’s a good event. It’s been good for our community.”
Admission to the event is $5 and children under 10 are admitted from of charge when accompanied by an adult. Anyone wishing to purchase alcoholic beverages will be need to show ID and receive a wristband.
Attendees can gain entry to the event at any of four different entry points: at the intersection of Pine Avenue and Washington Street, in the alley behind the Art Park between Pine Avenue and Broad Avenue, behind the Flint RiverQuarium and on Front Street.
Gregors said he hopes to see people of all ages and wants people to bring blankets and chairs and just spend a nice day in downtown Albany.
Anyone wishing to get additional details about the event can visit a special Facebook page called Albany Mardi Gras Street Festival.