Where's the place to be on the Saturday before Fat Tuesday? Why, at the Mardi Gras Columbia festival, hosted at City Roots Urban Farm, of course!
Started in 2011, this annual festival is now organized by the Krewe de Columbi-Ya-Ya, a local, all-volunteer nonprofit organization, whose members are dedicated to doing charitable work and letting the good times roll since founding the festival.
Columbia chef and restaurateur Kristian Niemi was one of the four founding members of this community celebration. "One of our friend's chick farm burned down due to a faulty heater, right before Mardi Gras. To help him be able to rebuild, we threw together a party and 350 people showed up. When we decided to do it again the next year, 3,000 people came," he recalls.
Committed to a benevolent mission, each Krewe member participates in the organization of the Mardi Gras parade and festival to bring the community together in an atmosphere of unity. Other Krewe events throughout the year consist of happy hours, barbecues, bacchanals, other local parades, and the annual coronation of the King and Queen of the Krewe de Columbia-Ya-Ya, held near Twelfth Night.
Kristian, who's been in the restaurant business for the past two decades and more recently opened the self-proclaimed "French-ish" Black Rooster at 201 Meeting St., has long been inspired by French brasseries and bistros, so he has strong connections regarding Mardi Gras. He also owns the Bourbon whiskey bar and Cajun-Creole restaurant at 1214 N. Main St., specializing in the flavors of the Louisiana bayou.
He still serves in an advisory role to the Mardi Gras festival. Another founding member, Tom Hall, coordinates the 20 bands that play on three or four stages at the gathering each year.
The 9th annual Mardi Gras Columbia Festival will be held on Saturday, Feb. 22, in downtown Columbia's Rosewood neighborhood. The family-friendly event will kick off with the customary neighborhood Mardi Gras parade at 11 a.m. (line-up begins at 10 a.m.), followed by a music festival 1005 Airport Blvd. from noon to 6 p.m. Admission for the music festival is $5 for adults and free for kids 12 and under; it's free to participate in the parade.
Proceeds raised go toward various charities each year.