Louisiana politicians along with bayou state bigwigs and residents stormed the nation’s capital over the weekend for the annual Washington Mardi Gras, but a storm of a different variety — a historic blizzard that dumped about 20 inches of snow on the city — left many stranded Sunday.
Revelers, including Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, members of Southern University’s Human Jukebox marching band and LSU President F. King Alexander found themselves reworking itineraries — and enjoying the mounds of powdery snow — after the snowstorm shut down the city’s airports.
A scaled-down Human Jukebox from Southern University set to play for the 3,000 partygoers who attended the ball at the Washington Hilton Saturday night, found themselves playing “Do Whatcha Wanna” and “Turn the Beat Up” outside, in the blizzard to a crowd of more than a hundred as they made their way to the ball, band director Nathan Haymer said.
The band’s performance brought a touch of Louisiana Mardi Gras to the city’s streets, which were otherwise largely paralyzed by the storm.
Gov. John Bel Edwards managed to slip out Sunday by driving to the Charlottesville, Virginia, airport, more than 100 miles southwest of the capital, and returned to Baton Rouge by that evening, said Richard Carbo, the governor’s spokesman.
Other officials who’d made the trip to Washington to celebrate Mardi Gras ‘capital style’ weren’t as lucky as the governor.
Nungesser was busy Sunday afternoon trying to book a flight back to Louisiana that would get him home in time for a speaking engagement Wednesday morning in Lake Charles. Originally scheduled to fly out Sunday, Nungesser said his flight Monday had also been cancelled.
“And I’ve only been in office for a couple weeks,” said Nungesser, a Republican from Plaquemine Parish just starting his first term as lieutenant governor. “I need to get to work.”
Despite the blizzard outside and headaches trying to get back home, Nungesser said the Washington Mardi Gras events went off without a hitch over the weekend.
“It was actually unbelievably successful,” Nungesser said of the Saturday night ball. “The room was packed. It was a great party. It was probably better for Louisiana constituents because we were pretty much confined to this hotel — we’ve been getting to know people real well.”
Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden, whose flight back Sunday morning was cancelled, echoed that sentiment, saying that while the snowstorm snarled travel plans, it didn’t dampen the mood.
If anything, Holden said, the storm that shut down much of the East Coast and kept visitors holed up in their hotel only strengthened the camaraderie.
“I think people got a chance to get to know people,” said Holden, who’s attended more than 20 Washington Mardi Gras and is a lieutenant in the Mystick Krewe of Louisianans, which throws the annual event.
“There weren’t any options because of the snow — they got a chance to talk to people and meet new friends they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to make,” he said.
Holden, who also attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors earlier in the week, said he’d gotten a chance to talk up his city to all sorts of people during the extra day in the city because of the weather.
“I get a chance to meet other people, people who’ve never done any business with Baton Rouge before, who are saying they want to come to our city,” Holden said. “It’s a marketing trip for me more than just a fun trip.”
Louisianans also got an opportunity to enjoy piles of snow that would be unimaginable back home.
Col. Mike Edmonson, the superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said he wound up in a snowball fight Sunday afternoon with members of Southern University’s Human Jukebox and witnessed another involving much of Louisiana’s Congressional delegation, including Sen. Bill Cassidy.
“Everybody’s in a good mood, enjoying themselves and seeing D.C.,” Edmonson said as he and his wife, Suzanne, worked their way through the snow to the White House. “I’m sure Washington is quite happy that Louisiana is here.”
Haymer, the band director from Southern University, said the weather forced all sorts of improvisations from his group.
It also nearly scuttled the Jukebox’s Mardi Gras performance when nine of the planned 32 band members were stranded in Atlanta on Friday, Haymer said.
After hearing the governor and other dignitaries were looking forward to the show, Haymer said the students reconfigured the set to play on without the missing members.
“What they saw yesterday, it was magic in the making,” Haymer said. “It doesn’t matter how old these students get. They’re always going to remember this trip.”