It’s Carnival Time: A Seattle Primer

Mardi Gras is almost here—here’s how you can join in the fun.

By the time you read this, it will be less than two weeks until the big bash known as Mardi Gras. Don’t dismiss it with visions of cheap plastic beads and Girls Gone Wild or flashbacks from Seattle’s 2001 Mardi Gras riot. In the rest of the Carnival-crazy world, from Rio to Venice to Trinidad, people from all walks of life have been painstakingly preparing costumes, choreography, and capers of all kinds. They celebrate with drunken revelry, yes, but also in the service of temporary social upheaval—when, as an old adage goes, the king becomes the pauper and the pauper becomes the king. We could use some of that in the #ResistTrump era. Even if Seattle’s slate of Carnival events isn’t so explicitly political, there are a whole lot of big brass, Latin grooves, Brazilian beats, and mystery masquerades (50 Shades wannabes take note) to be had:

Branford Marsalis Quartet The Marsalis family is New Orleans royalty, and the saxophonist, composer, and bandleader brings his jazz quartet to town for a tune-up sure to put you in the right seasonal spirit. The Triple Door, Fri., Feb. 17–Sun., Feb. 19.

Venice Is Sinking Trot out your finest frippery for the 10th anniversary of this ersatz Venetian Carnival ball. Decadence is the order of the day in a recreation of St. Mark’s Piazza, with prosecco pouring, desserts from South Lake Union’s Rigoletto, and a gelato bar from Gelatiamo. On display: a costume contest, contortionists, belly dancers, hula-hoopers, burlesque performers, aerialists, and an adult toy playground (a display, not a demonstration). If the 50 Shades sequel has you hot and bothered, sign up immediately. Seattle Design Center, Sat., Feb. 18.

The Ball of the Two Well-Known Gentlemen A spinoff of Seattle Immersive Theatre’s ongoing Nola-themed performance Storyville Rising, this after-hours masquerade ball brings partiers into the red-light underbelly of the Big Easy at the turn of the century. On hand: an eight-piece brass band, burlesque dancers, and aerialists. Imbibers can sip inside the period recreation set, which offers options for saints (the church) and sinners (the bordello). Seattle Immersive Theatre. Sat., Feb. 25.

The Polyrhythmics As New Orleans’ WWOZ radio station is fond of broadcasting on Mardi Gras, “Remember, everywhere else it’s just Tuesday.” Don’t give in to a case of the Tuesdays. Instead join our local eight-piece funk and Afrobeat orchestra. Polyrhythm is, pretty much, the basis of all things hip-shaking, which will be happening plenty on the streets of Brazil and Trinidad tonight, so shake away in solidarity. Nectar Lounge, Tues., Feb. 28.

23rd Annual Brazilian Carnaval Show Brazil’s Eduardo and Ana Paula Mendonça, first-generation immigrants, always go full on Brasileiro with this festa, featuring a feijoada (look it up) of sounds from across this continent-sized country, where regional rhythms mean different Carnaval soundtracks from Rio to Recife, São Paulo to Salvador. With Seattle’s Rio-style samba troupe VamoLá! The Crocodile, Sat., March 4.