RUBONIA -- The 35th Annual Rubonia Mardi Gras drew 15,000 people Sunday to enjoy ethnic food, diverse music and a parade of 30 often wacky floats.
People came from Bradenton, Palmetto and all over the Tampa Bay area for the unique event, which started as a birthday party for Rubonia resident Luann Topp and grew exponentially from there.
Some say the Rubonia Mardi Gras is only as good as the spirit of fun and adventure attendees add to it.
That was the case Sunday when Yolanda Cowart led 24 of her volunteers in line dancing. It was a more joyful role than usual for Cowart, who founded the Springtime Club, a volunteer group from Clearwater, which councils families of murder victims.
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As Elaine Williams, Tamara Townsend, Angela Moore, Annie Howard and Donna Evans got it rolling in the middle of the road, people joined in.
Cowart's group had been invited to the Palmetto Youth Center on Saturday night to teach line dancing.
"What I love about the Mardi Gras is how diverse it is," Cowart said during a break. "At one end of the street I heard a black gentleman playing Latin music and on the other a Latin man playing black music.
It's a lot of fun. I feel at home."
Given its almost-anything-goes nature, entrepreneurs do try things out.
A group of friends from Carrabba's Restaurant on Cortez Road made Mardi Gras tie-die T-shirts and sold 70 from their car for $20 each, according to leaders, Luke Bustle and Brian "Doc" Cook.
"The Mardi Gras is a one of a kind," said Amanda Woods, one of the Carrabba's friends, who also included Anna Pratt, Amanda Tippett, Schyler Hunt, Chad Hoopingarner and Evan Stoltz, "It's got the best barbecue in town."
Mardi Gras is a chance to let your hair down, said Joy Brassard, who came to the event with her husband, Bob and their good friends, Tony and Margaret Ciferri, all of whom live in Ridgewood Meadows in Ellenton.
"We saw it in the paper and we said: 'Let's go!'" Joy Brassard said. "We're looking for a wild party."
Joy and Bob have been married 40 years and are not afraid to have fun. Friends have called them the "happiest couple in America,"
"We've gone on cruises and, once, I played this game at a campground where they blindfold you and you try to pick out your husband from among a group of men by feeling their shoes," Joy said. "I got it wrong."
The couples started off their party ways with hamburgers and sausage sandwiches as they sat awaiting the parade.
John and Donna Norden shared a long kiss at the Mardi Gras. The couple live in Trailer Estates. John has worn the same jester hat to the Mardi Gras 17 straight years.
"It lives up in our bedroom closet until March every year," Norden said. "It's right next to my St. Paddy's hat that I bring to Anna Maria Island."
The Nordens just love the "vibe" of the Mardi Gras.
"Crazy people, no one is an enemy, can't beat the food," John Norden said. "And, of course, you can't beat the parade."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.