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Fat Tuesday

The Prairieland Dixie Band, one of the Twin Cities' longest-running continuous groups (pictured here at Make Music Normal several summers ago), will lead the Fat Tuesday Front Street Mardi Gras second line parade at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, as well as perform a full show at Jazz UpFront, post-parade. 

STEVE SMEDLEY, The Pantagraph

BLOOMINGTON — There's no corpse or fancy horse-drawn hearse involved. 

But downtown Bloomington is still getting its first-ever New Orleans second line parade, just in time for Fat Tuesday (Feb. 28).

The Big Easy parades typically involve a brass band leading the funeral procession, or "main line," through the French Quarter.

Those who join in as mourners and well-wishing followers are referred to as the "second line" as they twirl handkerchiefs and parasols in the air.

It all ends joyfully, not mournfully, as a celebration of the deceased's life, says James Gaston, owner of downtown Bloomington's Jazz Up Front and organizer of the first-ever Fat Tuesday on Front Street celebration.

"Basically, it turns into a party," he adds.

And a party is what it will definitely be on Front Street, along the spirited lines of last summer's first Front Street Music Festival (which will return for seconds this summer on Aug. 19, notes Gaston).

The brass band heading up Tuesday night's parade on Front Street in downtown Bloomington will be a quartet culled from Bloomington-Normal's long-running, seven-man Prairieland Dixie Band, who've been bringing a musical taste of New Orleans to town since 1982.

According to another of the event's planners, Julie Schickedanz Gleeson, the ticketed parade ($35 advance, $40 the day of) kicks off at 5:30 p.m. sharp in front of Jazz UpFront, 107 W. Front St. (the party begins inside around an hour earlier, she notes).

"Then the parade will make it way to its first stop, Diggers," she says of the bar at 230 E. Front St. 

For the next 45 minutes, participants will enjoy a drink or two, with the Prairieland Dixie quartet offering a tune or two inside, promises group spokesman and trombonist Ron Augspurger.

Afterward, it's back out to Front Street and up the block to the third stop, Rosie's Pub, says Gleeson of the venue at 106 E. Front St., where another 45 minutes or so of Fat Tuesday communion will ensue.

After those stops, the parade revelers return to Front Street, and march back, handkerchiefs a-waving, for the main event at Jazz UpFront.

It begins with a traditional New Orleans dinner, featuring gumbo from Rosie's, shrimp and grits from Front Street Cafe, cornbread from Epiphany Farms and, for dessert, a slice of Mardi Gras king cake with plenty of sprinkled colored sugar on top.

Then the full, seven-man Prairieland Dixie Band (Augspurger, trumpeters Bruce Land and Brian Choban, banjo man Bones Bach, drummer Roger Heerdt, sax and clarinet man Jeff Arbisi and tuba player Corey Beirne) takes over.

"We were brainstorming on having a Fat Tuesday party, bouncing around ideas," says Gaston, who opened Jazz UpFront as Bloomington-Normal's only full-time jazz club two summers ago.

A la the Front Street Music Festival that premiered in 2016, Gaston wanted it to be a full Front Street affair, making the second line parade concept a natural for the event. Followed by plenty of good spirits, music and food.

For the Prairieland Dixie Band, the parade and party is a logical extension of the group's New Orleans musical mission of the past 35 years, says Augspurger, who along with trumpeter Lane are the band's long-runners, part of the original founding family.

The group, organized in 1982 by past member Marty Peters, spent its first several years without a formal name, becoming the Prairieland Dixie Band in 1984, when the group joined a Twin Cities Sister City visit to Asahikawa, Japan.

"We played at a few events there, then we got an agent there who wanted to book us for about a dozen gigs up and down Japan during the next week-and-a-half," says Auspurger.

"We ended up spending most of our time on tour instead of with the Sister City group," he adds.

There was no turning back, and the seven-man band has been a musical presence on their home turf since, offering not just New Orleans jazz, but an array of other musical styles, from R&B to funk.

In addition to their annual summertime gigs at Miller Park and the Connie Link Amphitheater, Prairieland Dixie Band is available for special occasions, like weddings, notes Augspurger.

"But no funerals, please" he adds with a laugh.

Follow Dan Craft on Twitter: @pg_dcraft

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