NRICA tries to keep the Mardi Gras spirit alive

NRICA tries to keep the Mardi Gras spirit alive

NRICA President Sharon Charette and Mardi Gras Co-Chairpersons Marlene Gagnon and Wally Rathbun meet at Chelo’s to plan this year’s pared down Mardi Gras festivities.

WOONSOCKET – It will be a relatively quiet scene in Woonsocket this weekend as the COVID-19 pandemic puts the traditional Mardi Gras festivities on hold.

But the Northern Rhode Island Council of the Arts, sponsor of the city’s long-time Mardi Gras celebration, wants people to know they’re still working behind the scenes and look forward to bringing back the event next year.

To that end, they’ve partnered with St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center, which has hosted the event in recent years, to put together a smaller celebration at Chelo’s in Woonsocket this Sunday, Feb. 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. While diners will have to follow the restaurant’s usual policies for dine-in or takeout, members of the NRICA will be on hand to create a Mardi Gras atmosphere with zydeco music and a free raffle drawing.

Members of the royal court, including Queen Lori Paul Thuot, Princesses Tabitha Westerhuis and Ashley Robitaille and King Jace Dominique Doiron, will make an appearance, and menu specials will include French meat pie and Cajun favorites.

Chelo’s will donate 20 percent of the proceeds to the NRICA, funds Mardi Gras Co-Chairwoman Marlene Gagnon said will be put to good use. While the organization has not been able to hold in-person events since last March, they still plan to give out two scholarships this year to graduates of Woonsocket High School and Beacon Charter High School for the Arts interested in pursuing careers in music or the arts.

“This year, those kids graduating, they missed out on a lot,” she said.

The organization also plans to involve local businesses in the pared down Mardi Gras celebration. Diners will need to present a certificate to ensure their funds support the NRICA and can obtain one at A Cut Above Hair Salon, Bileau’s Flowers, The Honey Shops, L’il General on Cumberland Hill Road, Missy’s Family Restaurant, Timeless Antiques or Vose True Value Hardware. Certificates can also be printed online at www.nrica.org .

Last year’s celebration, which took place on Feb. 22, was one of the last large events held in the city before public gatherings were put on hold. Gagnon said the event was sold out and recalled the exuberant atmosphere as revelers gathered for a night of dancing and Cajun food.

“Nobody really knew it until maybe two or three weeks after, and that’s when it came out,” she said. “And we said, by God, we made that by the skin of our teeth. But we didn’t know it.”

Gagnon said they still don’t know if they’ll be able to hold their French Heritage Festival, which traditionally takes place at River Island Arts Park in September, but they’ve tentatively set the date aside. She’s hoping COVID-19 restrictions will allow the event to take place and said the organization plans to release more information later in the year.