RUBONIA -- The 32nd Annual Rubonia Mardi Gras almost didn’t happen this year due to a lack of sponsors.
But several business donors stepped up at the last minute to rescue the festival and, Sunday, the public responded in a big way.
An all-time festival record of more than 20,000 revelers showed up to sip beverages, dance to bass-throbbing music and eat barbecue beneath breezy blue skies.
“It was the largest crowd ever and you could feel the excitement,” said Troy Moore, a member of the Hernando De Soto Historical Society and one of the 35-member Conquistador crewe who “skippered” the 42-foot long and 111/2-foot tall San Cristobal III Spanish ship float in the Mardi Gras’ 3 p.m. parade.
“We gave out three cases of beads and there are 36 dozen in a case,” Moore added.
Also confirming the crowd was a record was Lt. Rick Gerken of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, who has been to dozens of festivals over the past years.
“I would say it’s the largest crowd to date,” Gerken said. “Our estimate is more than 20,000.”
There were several arrests at the event for suspended licenses and possession of drugs but most people enjoyed themselves and just had fun, Gerken added.
Vendors reported brisk sales throughout the event, as if the public were hungry for anything Mardi Gras.
“I sold out of most of my stock pretty early,” said Mardi Gras hat vendor Jim Lurgio, who lives in Tree Lakes Mobile Home Park. “Cars were pouring in here by 10 a.m. Everyone was very friendly.”
The Mardi Gras credited Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, USA Fence and Souther n Agricultural Insecticides for providing “the help needed to keep this community event alive,” Mardi Gras officer Charles Miller told the Herald last week.
The crowd was three and five people deep in some spots along the parade route and showed appreciation for their favorite floats.
As usual, The San Cristobal and the Chicken Train seemed to top the list of favorites in a field that ranged from sharp looking low riders with concert-quality loud speakers to a pristine white Cadillac Deville from the 1960s with the license plate, “Finning,” a reference to its side fins.
Where else in the world but the Rubonia Mardi Gras are you likely to see little cages occupied by one chicken each pulled by a tractor. The caboose of the chicken train contained a rabbit.
“It’s a hoot, isn’t it?” exclaimed Bradenton’s Linda Wells, a medical assistant who enoys dancing at the Mardi Gras. “If my patients could see me today they would get a kick out of it.”
Wells rocked out along with best friend Sally Bello and Bello’s daughter, Jay Crabbe.
Why has she attended the Mardi Gras 18 straight years?
“I love the camaraderie between all of the people,” Wells said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.