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In Focus: A very Northside Mardi Gras

Outside the red door to the Allegheny Elks Club, two of Cheryl Capezzuti’s shimmering puppets dance to the quiet street sounds of a Tuesday night in February. Open the red door, and the brass and drums of big band music pour out the door, setting the mood for revelers draped in shiny beads and feather boas, their eyes shadowed by glittery masks. The line for jambalaya and shrimp po’ boys runs to the back of the wood-paneled room. In time, Jack “Johnny Angel” Hunt calls 2016 Northside Mardi Gras King Rick Sebak to the stage to pass over his beads, scepter and crown to his 2017 successor, Randy Gilson of local Randyland fame. As the crowd cheers and cameras flash, Seback reluctantly allows Gilson to pry the crown from his head, and the start of the 2017 Northside Mardi Gras is officially proclaimed.

The Northside Mardi Gras party is part of 70 different events involving 37 businesses throughout two weeks of celebration in the neighborhood, all featuring some kind of Mardi Gras or pre-Lenten theme or special. “Five years ago we had a Fat Tuesday party. Three years ago we had another one and we said, hey, we have something here,” said Northside Leadership Conference Main Street Manager Cody Walters, 36, of Deutchtown, who promotes the neighborhood through promoting businesses and organizes the Deutchtown Music Festival. “Mardi Gras was just an excuse to capture all that, to showcase what the Northside always has: good people, great music, awesome food, fun times.”

Pamela Carney, left, of Brighton Heights, dances with Mark Peters of Imperial at the Third Annual Northside Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Allegheny Elks Club in East Allegheny. The two dance every other Thursday at the Allegheny Elks’ big band night, where Peters teaches a dance class. The night included dancing to big band and brass band tunes, jambalaya and other Southern bites, and the crowning of the 2017 Northside Mardi Gras King, which this year transferred from Rick Sebak to Randyland’s Randy Gilson.
Keith Hall, 65, of Wexford, laughs as he watches the party at the Third Annual Northside Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Allegheny Elks Club in East Allegheny. “I come down here all the time. This is where all the action is- on the Northside,” said Hall.
The crowd at the at the Allegheny Elks Club cheers as Randy Gilson of Randyland fame takes to the stage to be crowned the 2017 Northside Mardi Gras King by 2016 King Rick Sebak at the Third Annual Northside Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 in East Allegheny.
Rick Sebak winces in his last moments as 2016 Northside Mardi Gras King as he prepares to pass the crown onto Randy Gilson, right, of Randyland fame at the Third Annual Northside Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Allegheny Elks Club in East Allegheny.
Ventrilo-puppeteer Bob Rumba of Robinson works on a balloon animal as he entertains party-goers at the Third Annual Northside Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Allegheny Elks Club in East Allegheny.
Mary Byrnes, left, 56, of Brighton Heights, laughs as Robert Mancuso, center, 52, of Ross Township, tells a story about golfing in the Las Vegas desert as they socialize at the Third Annual Northside Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Allegheny Elks Club in East Allegheny. Mancuso came mainly to see his friend Randy Gilson be crowned Northside Mardi Gras King. Mancuso calls Gilson, “A beautiful, beautiful person.” On right, Debbie Zarko, 61, of the Northside, watches the band.
Arleen Grace Kelly of Troy Hill stands for a portrait in her peacock feathers and tulle as she heads out from at the Third Annual Northside Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Allegheny Elks Club in East Allegheny. “Party, just party, just dance and have a good time,” said Kelly of her approach to a successful Mardi Gras celebration.
Hal Weiss of Uptown plays the trumpet with Dixie Doc and the Pittsburgh Dixieland All-Stars at the Third Annual Northside Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Allegheny Elks Club in East Allegheny.
John Gasper, left, 57, of Cecil, and Patti Coyne of Dormont, sing along to the last song of the night as they close out the dance floor at the Third Annual Northside Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Allegheny Elks Club in East Allegheny. The two are headed to the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans for their 20th year this April. “This is like a practice,” said Coyne of the party.
Heather Cornell of Ambridge poses for a portrait in her celebratory attire at the Third Annual Northside Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Allegheny Elks Club in East Allegheny. “We go out for Mardi Gras every year,” said Cornell. “Pittsburgh is so everybody. It’s so southern. It’s so northern. It’s so republican. It’s so democrat. It’s so Pittsburgh.”