The Alexandria Mardi Gras Association (AMGA) celebrates 30 years of festivities this year! The Mardi Gras spirit has taken hold of Central Louisiana since the first parade was held on Sunday, February 13, 1994 and has only grown stronger ever since!
It all began in the summer of 1993. The Alexandria/Pineville Conventions and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, consisting of Anne Fitzgerald, Michael Tudor, Fred Rosenfeld, Tom Hardin, Mike Hadnot, Bart Schmolke, Ann Johnson, and Executive Director Emory Oney, voted to provide seed money to launch a parade in 1994. The CVB contracted with Frances Methvin as coordinator and Mike Tudor as committee chairman to put the inaugural parade together. Since then, Alexandria’s Mardi Gras has grown from having a total of ten floats with participation of four Mardi Gras Krewes that first year, to boasting more than twenty floats and Krewes!
The AMGA was formally established in 1994 by a consortium of local business leaders, the Alexandria/Pineville Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mardi Gras enthusiasts and the various Krewes with the goal of providing a cultural event, appealing to all cross sections of the community, state and region, to help stimulate the economy. Mike Tudor served as the first president of the AMGA.
Two years later, under the leadership of President Pat Elliott, a Children’s Parade was organized for downtown Alexandria. Like the Sunday Krewe Parade, it features a Grand Marshal and an international feature with a special guest of honor serving as float captain.
President Greg Gormanous oversaw the launch of the College Cheerleader/Classic Car Parade in 2008. Like the Children’s Parade, the CCCC Parade was organized for the downtown Alexandria route. Cheerleaders from Louisiana colleges and universities and from adjoining states, are invited to participate along with classic car owners. Special guests at the inaugural parade included Louisiana State University football players and Mike the Tiger himself!
Through the AMGA’s strategic management, Mardi Gras in the Heart of Louisiana has continued to expand and offer families the pomp and splendor of this Louisiana tradition right here at home. The 30th anniversary celebrations kicked off on Epiphany at the Three Kings’ Throwdown at the Tasting Room of Louisiana in Downtown Alexandria. With Third Street closed to traffic, the event featured the official launch of the anniversary season, with presentations by AMGA President Chris Chelette, Mayor Jacques Roy, a king cake cook-off, Moon Pie-hole Toss, Mardi Gras Trivia along with delicious food and drinks.
The first parade to roll for the 30th anniversary season will be the Pineville Night of Lights Mardi Gras Parade on Friday, February 10th. The 2023 parade begins at 7:00pm at the flagpole on the Riverfront and travels north on Main Street through Downtown Pineville to the entrance of Louisiana Christian University. This year, Louisiana State Senator Jay Lunueau will serve as Grand Marshal. Immediately following the parade, join the official after party at the Trotter Center, located at 1600 Military Highway, featuring live music by the Sundown Band, Gary Cathey, Fred Jones and more!
A week later, Mardi Gras weekend in Alexandria kicks off with the AMGA Classic Cars & College Cheerleaders Parade on Friday, February 17th. As always, the parade line-up will feature some of the best classic cars from around the area paired with cheer squads from colleges, universities, and high schools from across the state. Rolling at 4:30pm, this year’s parade will be led by Grand Marshal and 2018 Cenla-ian of the Year, legendary Peabody Magnet High School Basketball Coach, Charles Smith. Coach Smith has excelled as a teacher, coach, Athletic Director, and leader in the Louisiana education system. He holds the record for the most career high school wins in the state of Louisiana. For his exceptional efforts over the years, Coach Smith has been inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Coaches Hall of Fame, and the National High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Coach Smith is married to Rosa Bynog Smith and together they have one daughter, Dr. Camacia Smith-Ross, and one son, Kedric Smith.
After working up an appetite at the CCCC Parade, head over to the Randolph Riverfront Center at 7:30pm for the 29th Annual Taste of Mardi Gras, presented by the Louisiana Restaurant Association. For nearly 30 years, this wildly popular local event has been the place to celebrate the flavors of Mardi Gras in Central Louisiana. All proceeds raised at the event benefit local charities and culinary education in Cenla, including: LRA Programs (Education Foundation & Louisiana ProStart); Children’s Miracle Network; Manna House Ministries; the AMGA Children’s Mardi Gras Parade; and the Food Bank of Central Louisiana.
Come out and dance the night away, eat, drink and have fun, all for a good cause! The family-friendly event will bring restaurants from across the region under one roof, like Walk-On’s Sport’s Bistreaux, Texas Roadhouse, and many more with drinks from East Side Daiquiris and Southbound Spirits. Dress code is dressy-casual and fun; Mardi Gras attire is highly encouraged! Bring out the beads, wigs, and purple, green, and gold!
Famed New Orleans cover band, The Chee-Weez, will headline the evening’s live entertainment, joined by the Cenla Brass Band. VIP ticketholders will enjoy reserved seating and early admission before the general public. VIP tickets are $75.00 or $500 for a table of eight; General Admission is $30.00; Children 10 and under are $10.00. Ticket prices will increase by $10.00 on the day of the event. For more information, call (225) 240-7189 or purchase your tickets in person at the Alexandria/Pineville CVB, located at 707 Second Street in Alexandria, on the first floor of the Randolph Riverfront Center.
On Saturday, February 18th, the kids take center stage with the AMGA Children’s Parade rolling down the Downtown route beginning at 10:00am. Miss Louisiana’s Outstanding Teen 2022, Mary Laura Hunt, will serve as Grand Marshal. A native of Ruston and leader in her community, her social impact initiative is #keepingitreal. The goal of #keepingitreal is to stop the pattern of comparison, self-doubt, and depression caused by social media; helping tweens understand that no human being has a picture perfect life, and that life viewed through the social media lens is not reality. As in years past, the Children’s Parade will boast an international theme, this year highlighting the culture and traditions of the Philippines.
Immediately following the Children’s Parade, the animals will all be askin’ for you at the Alexandria Zoo Mardi Gras Party. Starting at 1:00pm, the Zoo invites you to don your best purple, green, and gold, and to parade over for a slice of king cake by Atwood’s Bakery, live music by the LaCour Trio, keeper chats, and much more! Regular admission prices will apply; FOTAZ members are free (with active membership card and ID).
The main event rolls on Sunday, February 19th at 2:00pm with the 30th Annual Alexandria Mardi Gras Krewes Parade. Following its Mid-City route beginning on Texas Avenue, the parade will roll to Masonic Drive, Memorial Drive, and North Boulevard before wrapping at the Alexandria Mall. The Grand Marshal for the 30th Annual Krewes parade will be Mr. Mardi Gras himself, outgoing long-time AMGA President Chris Chellette. “I’m so honored that the AMGA board thought of me to be Grand Marshal and I couldn’t be more excited,” said Chris. He has been the recipient of the Hometown Hero Award and the Jimmy Williams Spirit of Community Award for his involvement in the Central Louisiana community. Having grown up in Pineville, where he graduated from Pineville High School before earning his degree at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, Chris now lives in Alexandria with his wife Tiffany and their two daughters. Chris began working with the Alexandria Mardi Gras Association in 1994 as a “spotter”, walking beside one of the floats. In 1997, he was a member of the Mystic Wizards, a walking krewe. He was then elected to the AMGA Executive Board in 2001 and has served as President of the AMGA for 14 different years and has remained on the Executive Board for 21 years.
Chris leaves the AMGA in a great place as the premier family-friendly Mardi Gras celebration in the region. “The parades are valuable assets to our community because they reach every aspect of our citizenry, regardless of economic or demographic background,” he explained. Combined parade attendance is estimated to be north of 200,000 people each year across the various parades. “After so many years, I felt like this was a great time to step back and let the next generation take over with some new, fresh ideas,” said Chelette.
Joining Chris for the Krewes parade will be special guest, Gracie Reichman, Miss Louisiana 2022. Gracie previously served as the Children’s Parade Grand Marshal and is returning for the 30th Anniversary of Cenla Mardi Gras revelry! A native of Colfax, Gracie is a junior Kinesiology & Health Sciences Major at Louisiana Tech University. She captured the Miss Louisiana Crown with her exhilarating Contemporary Clogging routine to Blue Suede Shoes. Since Gracie began competing in the Miss America Organization, she has earned over $74,100 in scholarships. She travels the state promoting her social impact initiative, “Think Twice, Be Nice” encouraging positive mindsets and self-worth.
The Alexandria Mardi Gras Association’s parades and festivities include as many ingredients as a great gumbo. The good times roll through Downtown and Mid-city Alexandria as people from all over Central Louisiana take part in the revelry. You won’t want to miss it as Mardi Gras parades come alive with the music of middle school, high school, and college bands joining masked royalty and riders from AMGA Krewes. Gather up the family and join the Alexandria Mardi Gras Association to kick off the next 30 years of celebrating Mardi Gras in the Heart of Central Louisiana!