By John Hanley
Ask anyone what the Mardi Gras State is, and they’ll tell you: Louisiana.
The Pelican State is the place to be when February rolls around. New Orleans is especially notorious for its full-scale, flamboyant festivities and massive, energetic crowds.But up until the late 1970s, Baton Rouge remained quiet on the Mardi Gras front, and New Orleans continued to steal the show.
That is, until Krewe Mystique de la Capitale showed up.
Going on its 38th year, the Krewe Mystique is the oldest parade in Baton Rouge, and started the wave of Fat Tuesday celebrations in the capital city.
“We feel like we brought Mardi Gras to Baton Rouge,” said Tommy Davis, the head chairman for the Mystique Parade and a member of the parade for 20 years.
This year, the parade is taking place on Saturday, Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. and is set to last about two hours, starting near the River Center in downtown Baton Rouge. The parade will include Krewe floats, truck floats, six school bands, beauty pageant queens, a classic car club, and other local groups.
“We look to have over 70 entries this year,” said Davis. “There’s hardly a group in Baton Rouge that’s not represented.”
Davis says that, granted the weather conditions are good, he expects “literally tens of thousands of people downtown.”
Whitney Vann, this year’s Parade Marshall, said this is one of their biggest parades yet, offering a multitude of entertainment for all ages.
“It’s really a family-oriented and friendly parade,” she said. She said the Krewe Mystique is a great parade to bring the children to because unlike most Baton Rouge parades, it’s during the middle of the day, and unlike Spanish Town, it’s focused less on phallic symbols and more on children’s toys.
However, music, food, and fun are universally entertaining, so the Mystique parade is sure to offer a good time for people of all ages.Vann says getting all of those attractions together has been a long process.
“So many people spend so much time [working on] it,” she said. “It’s amazing how much time it takes.”
Kris Cangelosi, the Honors Chairwoman for the Mystique Parade, says preparations have been in the works since last year’s parade.
“It’s a year-long responsibility,” she said. “Right now, I’m getting ready to seek out the 2016 [Royal Court].”
Cangelosi says the parade’s 2015 theme, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, was chosen last summer. Davis added that many of the floats that will be in the parade were also chosen last summer.
Along with floats, Davis says the other participants are figured out early on as well.
“[We keep] a list up all year long,” he explained. “Around October I really start contacting all the past participants, sending out entry forms, and put it together. [That] is a two- to three- month process, but it really never stops.”
Davis and Cangelosi agree that it’s this persistence and involvement – along with the strong team of people that put their time and energy into the parade – that has kept the Mystique Parade going successfully for so long.
“We just appreciate the history that we can continue [with] that heritage that we have,” said Davis. “Putting on a great family parade for the city of Baton Rouge is just so much fun to do every year.”
The fact that everyone involved enjoys the work is what Davis says helps the parade to run so well.
Cangelosi adds that there is also a strong sense of tradition that keeps the parade going strong.
“As people come in and come out, we maintain the tradition and stay true to it,” she said. Cangelosi is a living example of this tradition, having been involved in the Mystique parade since its inception in 1977.
“I’ve come through it being a queen, a ball captain, and honors chair, my husband was a king, my father was a king, my grandfather was a king,” she said. “We like to keep passing it down.”
2015 marks yet another year of passing down the tradition and another year of keeping Mardi Gras alive and well in Baton Rouge.