12th Annual 11th Street Cowboy Mardi Gras
By Sandy Jennings BCC Staff Writer
11th Street Cowboy Bar owner and founder of the 11th Street Cowboy Mardi Gras, James McGroarty expects crowds in excess of 5,000 to 8,000, to pour into the streets of Bandera this weekend in celebration of the 12th Annual 11th Street Cowboy Mardi Gras, starting Thursday, Feb. 16 through Saturday, Feb 18.
“What brings people to our Mardi Gras is the combination of music,” McGroarty said. “Nowhere else on the continent has the special combination of award winning Cajun and Zydeco music by day and South Texas award winning, honky tonk western band music by night, combined with delicious Cajun food, costume contests and parades, a gumbo cook off and all of the feathers and flamboyancy of true Mardi Gras. That’s what we’ve accomplished.”
McGroarty and co-creator of Cowboy Mardi Gras and owner of 11th Street Cowboy Bar Harley and Horses Marketplace Stella Tedesco have spent years traveling to the Louisiana bayous, collecting ideas and learning all they could about the Mardi Gras culture with hopes of creating the most authentic and unique experience for the locals and guests.
“Mardi Gras has always been a favorite to folks here in Bandera, starting with small private parties and growing to a community wide celebration,” McGroarty said. “We’ve created a very festive event during a period in Bandera that has absolutely nothing going on.”
McGroarty schedules the Cowboy Mardi Gras to compliment other Texas celebrations, as well as, the mother of all Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, Louisiana , starting on Tuesday, Feb. 28.
“We kick off our Cowboy Mardi Gras two weeks before New Orleans,” McGroarty said. “People can travel to Galveston and Orange, Texas, next week for more Mardi Gras celebrations before the ultimate Fat Tuesday.”
Orange and Galveston are two communities that McGroarty has tried to model his community Mardi Gras vision from. Both cities enjoy tremendous tourists revenue from the event. Mardi Gras! Galveston continues to dominate Texas, celebrating their 106th two week celebration starting Friday, Feb. 17.
“As a life-long member of this community, I wanted to create something that everyone could benefit from and at a time of the year that we normally don’t see an influx of tourism,” McGroarty said. “The dynamics of creating and planning a national event has taken a lot of time and money over the past 12 years.”
Funded entirely by 11th Street Cowboy Bar, McGroarty spends over $20,000 in advertising alone, which includes 32,000 newspaper inserts throughout Texas and radio and television ads. Social media and word of mouth has landed Cowboy Mardi Gras in national publications.
11th Street Cowboy Bar and it’s unique Cowboy Mardi Gras has been featured in several publications including Life Magazine, The Oprah Show, Texas Highways, Texas Monthly, Texas Co-Op Power, USA Today, Southern Living, the Houston Chronicle, HIll Country Happenings, San Antonio Express News and features on the cover this month of Hill Country Sun and the Texas Entertainment Magazine Action.
“Stella and I were very honored to have the 11th Street Cowboy Mardi Gras pictured and featured in the Library of Congress two years ago,” McGroarty said. “It represents Bandera very well.”
McGroarty also pays for parade insurance, awards, prize money, the gumbo cook off benefiting the Boys and Girls Club and funded extra law enforcement to help with crowd control and safety.
“I hired four extra motorcycle law enforcement officers to help with the parade, crowd control and overall public safety,” McGroarty said.
He also hired 27 extra bar staff to keep lines short and customers happy. All of the attention to detail, from advertising to safety, has helped the 11th Street Cowboy Mardi Gras turn into Bandera’s largest event by far, confirmed by the city tax rolls and based on sales and bed tax revenue in 2016.
“Twelve years ago, when we bought 11th Street Cowboy Bar, we looked through the records to see how we could bring it to another level,” McGroarty said. “We want this bar to be an iconic music venue, not just another small backstreet bar.”
With that vision, McGroarty booked big names at 11th Street Cowboy Bar for this week’s festivities starting with Rusty Metoyer and Zydeco Krush Thursday night, starting at 8:30 pm. Both bands repeat on Friday at 2 pm, followed by Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco RoadRunners at 6pm. Headliners for the 10pm slot is Jake Hooker and The Outsiders.
Saturday’s playlist includes Wayne Singleton and the Same Ole 2 Step, taking the stage at 12:30 pm and Cajun Music with Wayne Singleton at 2:45 pm. Jamie Bergeron and the Kickin’ Cajuns take the stage at 5 pm. Headlining on Saturday night at 11th Street Cowboy Bar is Jeff Woolsey and the Dancehall Kings.
Cowboy Mardi Gras kicks off Thursday with the Canine Costume Contest at 7 pm. A plaque, large bag of dog food and a certificate for free grooming will be awarded to the best dressed canine. Cajun food will be served starting at 8 pm. with live music starting at 8:30 pm.
On Friday, live music will start at 2 pm and continue through the late night. Access to the strip of 11th Street, from 11th Street Mercantile to 11th Street Cowboy Bar, will be pedestrian only, allowing for street vendors, multiple activities and safe walking for participants, from 2pm on Friday through 3am Sunday morning.
Saturday morning kicks off early with an 8 am kettle call for the World Championship Gumbo Cook Off. All proceeds from the cook off will benefit Bandera’s Boys and Girls Club and winners are given the opportunity to donate their cash prizes to the club.
The 12th Annual Cowboy Mardi Gras parade will begin promptly at noon, making it’s way from Shoe Biz to Lowe’s down Main Street with two stops.
“We have the historical Howard Hobson announcing the parade in front of the historical Arkey Blue’s,” McGroarty said. “Genie Strickland will also be announcing in front of the courthouse.”
McGroarty noted 140 entries and 600-700 people already signed up to participate in the parade.
“There will be everything from large colorful floats to our traditional cowboys on horses,” McGroarty said.
After the parade, festivities heat up back on 11th Street, with continuous live music, the Cowboy Mardi Gras Costume Contest, the Gumbo Cook Off, lots of Cajun food and the Money Chicken Race.
“The chicken races were something we saw in south Louisiana and thought they were a lot of fun,” McGroarty said. “You tie $50 and $100 bills onto the chicken’s leg and whoever catches the chicken gets the money. It’s really fun to watch.”
Entry to 11th Street to enjoy vendors and activities is free. Wristbands are on sale for entry to 11th Street Cowboy Bar and tickets can be purchased for the Gumbo Cook Off.
For more information on the 11th Street Cowboy Mardi Gras, please 11th Street Cowboy Bar at 830- 796-4849 or visit their website at 11thstreetcowboybar.com.