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Offbeat Magazine, November 2008

Mardi Gras, Sunflower Style
By Dan Willgang

Life on the Kansas prairie has been good to Truckstop Honeymoon’s Mike West and Katie Euliss in the post-Katrina era. Except, that is, on Mardi Gras day, when Euliss finds things a bit drowsy in the quaint university town of Lawrence. The situation inspired “Mardi Gras in Kansas” from the group’s new CD Great Big Family.

Since Mardi Gras fell on February 5—coincidentally, West’s birthday—the doubly motivated Euliss contacted local musicians to see if they would be interested in learning a few tunes in preparation for an ad hoc Mardi Gras parade.

Throughout January, singers, fiddlers, banjoists, mandolinists, guitarists, drummers, percussionists and horn players of all shapes and sizes assembled at the West-Euliss abode to rehearse “Iko Iko,” “Lil’ Liza Jane” and of course, “Mardi Gras Mambo.” A neighbor of West’s played a xylophone-like contraption made out of bottles, each tuned to a different pitch.

“A lot of these players never heard these tunes,” says West. “And they’re like, ‘Wow, this is great!’”

It was so great that when the anticipated day was dampened by drizzling, freezing rain, no one backed out. “Everyone showed up and we started marching and playing the songs, going in and out of coffee shops. We walked into one coffee shop and the manager was screaming, ‘No! No! No! You can’t come in here.’ There’s trombones, tubas and small banjos and they’re like, ‘You can’t stop us.’ And of course, all the people in the coffee shops and bars are cheering.

“It was a big ol’ loose mess,” West says. “It was wonderful.”

The mess trundled on to its final destination, Free State Brewery, where the unannounced appearance made the microbrewery’s manager nervous as well. “We went in there and started playing and the crowd was so into it,” West recalls. “After we played a bunch of numbers, the manager told us, ‘Well, you got to come back next year.’”

By the end, West and Euliss’ four-year-old daughter Vega was cold and all the instruments were wet and frozen. “I’m surprised the fiddle players kept playing because their instruments were soaked,” West says. “They came unglued.” Thankfully, the fiddles survived—their owners were a couple of old-time fiddle repair guys.

“It was an absolute moral victory,” West says. “If we can do it on a day like that, we can do it every year. It doesn’t matter what the conditions are.”

Truckstop Honeymoon returns to New Orleans November 4 at d.b.a. and November 6 at the Circle Bar.

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