New Orleans has its Mardi Gras, Anchorage has Fur Rendezvous, but here in Homer we do our annual Winter Carnival Kachemak Bay style.
Sure, New Orleans might have a big parade, but does it have ice and snow? Anchorage might have ice and snow, but does it have ice racing on frozen lakes? When it comes to a small town winter carnival during the Mardi Gras season of Epiphany to Lent, you can’t get any more local than here.
Now in its 57th year, Homer’s Winter Carnival preceded statehood. Heck, it even preceded formal incorporation of Homer as a city. Since 1956, Homer has looked to carnival festivities to get us through the gloomy days of midwinter.
While events vary, the big ones include:
• A big parade down Pioneer Avenue,
• Ice racing on Beluga Lake,
• Lots of indoor activities like music, dance and the big drawing for the Winter Shopping Derby winner.
Sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, Winter Carnival starts next Thursday, Feb. 7, with the Winter Carnival Basketball Tournament at Homer High School and runs through Feb. 10 with Ice Racing and Snowmachine Racing on Beluga Lake. Throughout the weekend businesses and nonprofits put on events tied into the carnival, like free ice skating at the Kevin Bell Ice Arena sponsored by NOMAR or music at AJ’s OldTown Steakhouse. This year’s theme is “Snowmachines, Skates and Skis — Oh My!”
“Tell Homer to come out and enjoy the weekend,” said Nyla Lightcap, carnival coordinator for the chamber. “It will be fun.”
The Saturday parade at noon has always been a popular event. The Homer Ice Racing Association drivers show off their stock car and modified-stock car in the parade. Businesses and nonprofits as well as individuals and families can join the parade and compete for prizes in Homer Bucks, the local currency printed by the chamber and good at participating merchants. Register in advance for the parade or show up at the staging area at the high school before.
“I’m really excited about the parade,” said Monte Davis, executive director of the chamber, who will emcee the parade with Chris Story. “It should be fun no matter what with Chris and I.”
Parade entries can range from Homer Cycling Club members on big fat bikes and unicycles to a perennial favorite, Homer’s own taste of Mardi Gras, the Krewe of Gambrinus Social Aid and Pleasure Club. They’ll march with the Bossy Pants band and the Bossy Panties dancers.
Founded by Mardi Gras elders Karen Berger and Steve McCasland, Mardi Gras groups date back to 1995 when Bob Folse and Brother Asaiah led a band known as the Paradoxical Love Warriors in the Winter Carnival parade. Mardi Gras krewes have spread elsewhere in the state. Last weekend, members of the Krewe of Gambrinus and local band Ray-Jen Cajun marched in the Juneau winter carnival parade with Krewe Chanceau, the Juneau krewe. Krewe Chanceau will march in Homer, said the current reigning king, King Dave Aplin.
“It looks like we’re fomenting a Mardi Gras tradition in Alaska,” Aplin said.
The Bossy Pants and Bossy Panties have been working out a performance to fit the theme of snowmachines, skates and skis, “which has been a challenge for us to adapt to, since none of those are typically in our realm,” Aplin said. “I think the audience will be surprised by our innovative solution.”
Ray-Jen Cajun performs at the public Mardi Gras ball at 8 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Down East Saloon.
Ice racing is weather dependent, but as of this week the ice racing association was out plowing the lake after Monday’s snow and getting the track in shape. Get a preview at 1 p.m. Sunday of the racing.
Winter Carnival Kachemak Bay style is not weather dependent, though. The parade will go on, rain, sleet, snow and sunshine, Lightcap said.
“Unless it’s the worst blizzards we can have or something ridiculous,” she said.