Mardi Gras lives in Chicago

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations usually involve bright purple and yellow masks, beads, boobs and traditional New Orleans jazz, but in Chicago, it is the blues community that brings the spirit of Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras, which falls on March 4 this year, celebrates Fat Tuesday, the day before the first day of Lent, a Catholic fasting period during which followers give up something they enjoy for 40 days as a sacrifice to God. Mardi Gras was originally meant to be the last hurrah before the start of Lent.

The spirit of Mardi Gras made its way up north to Chicago about 100 years ago through the power of music, according to Stan West, a Columbia professor who teaches Blues as Literature. There is a train called the City of New Orleans that began running in 1947 and still runs straight from New Orleans to Chicago, directly connecting the Crescent City to the Windy City, West said.

“I’m guessing a hundred years ago, as they came North with their [blues] music, they carried Mardi Gras with them,” West said.

King Oliver, jazz cornet player and bandleader, invited Louie Armstrong, jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, to Chicago to join his Creole Jazz Band, according to It was through changes such as these that the Chicago Black Renaissance, a 20th century version of the Harlem Renaissance, was born.

Local blues musician Tom Rezetko has observed many Chicago blues bands play accordion-filled, French creole-inspired Mardi Gras music to honor the historic holiday tradition.

“The blues and Mardi Gras music are fairly close,” Rezetko said. “There is more blues in Chicago probably than anywhere else in the country. You have some [blues] bands that will play Mardi Gras music specifically this time of year.”

Several Chicago blues venues will carry on the Mardi Gras tradition this year. The Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111 St., is hosting a Mardi Gras concert for the first time this year and has high hopes for the event. According to Dan Sawyers, front of house manager, the center is featuring a blues band that will incorporate Mardi Gras elements for the night.

“We do have a couple of places on the South Side that have their roots in the Mardi Gras tradition,” Sawyers said. “I think there is somewhat of a following, but it’s something that can be expanded upon.”

The Chronicle compiled some of the city’s best bluesy Mardi Gras celebrations happening this year.

Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras Party

Beverly Arts Center

2407 W. 111th St.

March 4  /  8 p.m.


Featuring the Smiley Tillmon Band, the celebration will offer free beads to everyone and Mardi-Gras-inspired drinks for purchase.


Delightful Pastries

5927 W. Lawrence Ave., 1710 N. Wells St. and 131 N. Clinton St.

March 4  /  7 a.m.–7 p.m.

Delightful Pastries is a Polish bakery that has been around since 1998. They make thousands of Paczkis, the official Fat Tuesday donut, every year. The bakery offers popular items such as raspberry- and custard-filled flavored donuts. They also have specialty donuts, including “Drunken Paczkis,” which come in flavors such as Jameson whiskey, chocolate custard, vodka custard with Madagascar vanilla and lemon curd with Moonshine. 

Buddy Guy’s Legends Concerts

700 S. Wabash Ave.

March 1

Noon, 6 p.m., 9:30 p.m., 11 p.m.

Noon show is free, night shows cost $10

Buddy Guy’s Legends, owned by famous blues musician Buddy Guy, will celebrate Fat Tuesday all day long with four different shows by Chicago-based blues musicians Mike Wheeler Band, Eric Noden, Steve Ditzell, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials

Carnivale 2014

Zhou B Art Center

1029 W. 35th St.

March 15  /  7 p.m.  


Carnivale is an extravaganza with Louisiana-style cuisine, a cash bar, live band, two disc jockeys and a costume contest that offers a $250 prize.

Mardi Gras Bar Crawl

Navy Pier

600 E. Grand Ave.

March 1  /  2–8 p.m.


Crawl through Harry Caray, Billy Goat Tavern, Riva Crab House, Mystic Blue, Häagen-Dazs and Crystal Garden for a Navy Pier-style Mardi Gras celebration. In addition to drinks, there will be live music, games, face painting and a raffle.