February 8, 2013

Old Sacramento marks Mardi Gras with music festival

Mardi Gras-style revelry will come to Old Sacramento on Saturday as a dozen restaurants and bars join to present a one-night live music festival.

Mardi Gras-style revelry will come to Old Sacramento on Saturday as a dozen restaurants and bars join to present a one-night live music festival.

"It's an excuse to get a baby sitter and go out for the evening," said Christopher McSwain, executive director of the Old Sacramento Business Association.

The Mardi Gras festival is Old Sacramento's first special event since New Year's Eve, when festivities were shut down early by a shooting that left two people dead and three others injured.

Mardi Gras is expected to draw a much smaller crowd – about 3,000 people attended last year compared with as many as 40,000 who turn out for New Year's Eve fireworks shows.

Police and event organizers, however, said they will beef up security Saturday night. Police spokeswoman Officer Michele Gigante said mounted and bicycle officers will patrol the area, and the Old Sacramento Business Association is paying for the services of four additional police officers. Private security personnel also will be on duty at the entertainment venues.

McSwain said Old Sacramento businesses work closely with police and one another in an effort to prevent trouble. Bars and restaurants have a communication system to alert each other to problem patrons.

"If someone is kicked out of one bar, he doesn't get into another bar," McSwain said.

Gigante said police don't anticipate any problems. "It should be a great event," she said.

Wristbands, on sale for $10 in advance or $15 the night of the event, will replace the cover charge at most venues and entitle wearers to VIP specials at many participating businesses.

The festival, begun last year, is a fundraising event with proceeds from wristband sales going to support the association's promotional activities.

For several years, Mardi Gras in Old Sacramento was a three-day bash organized by the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society, which also puts on the Sacramento Music Festival over the Memorial Day weekend. The Mardi Gras festival ended after 2004.

The Old Sacramento Business Association revived the tradition last year with a smaller event, and one that replaced outdoor stages with indoor performances.

"We have a high concentration of bars and restaurants, great venues that can pull people in," McSwain said. "This is the model for what a music festival really should be."

Businesses benefit from being part of the event rather than just doing business in an area where a festival is being held, he said.

The festival has grown from nine venues last year to 12 this year, offering a variety of music including country, classic rock, zydeco and jazz. The goal also is to spotlight local musicians.

Steven Swaner, manager of Fanny Ann's Saloon, said its difficult to compare the economic impact of the revived festival with its predecessor.

"Business is different now," he said, citing the effect of the recession. "It's not going to be like 15 years ago."

The Mardi Gras celebration, like Old Sacramento itself, appeals to all ages.

"We get a very diverse crowd," Swaner said, noting that the clientele varies depending on the time of night. "Early in the evening, it's more families, later it's more of an older crowd. Then late night, it's the young guys."

The restaurants and bars participating in the music festival and offering specials for wristband wearers are Joe's Crab Shack, River City Saloon, Fanny Ann's, O'Mally's, Laughs Unlimited, The Other Office, Coconut Grove, Steamers, La Terraza, Fat City, Delta King and Vega's Underground.

Advance tickets, which may be redeemed for wristbands, are available at participating venues, including River City Saloon, O'Mally's Irish Pub and Laugh's Unlimited, and online at

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