Getting a bead on 2002 Mardi Gras Mayfest

Saturday, May 11, 2002

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- When people at Friday's beginning of the 2002 Mardi Gras Mayfest were asked what Mayfest is all about, one response -- a shrug -- was common.

Maybe it's about farming. More than half the 80 entries in the Mardi Gras Mayfest Parade Friday evening were antique tractors.

The names on street signs in front of the Perry County Courthouse were covered with placards reading "Bourbon Street," so maybe Mayfest could be about Mardi Gras. But that's just this year's theme.

"It's celebrating Perryville," offered Dorothy Alkemeyer, who sat on a picnic bench on the courthouse lawn with fellow retirees Betty Tucker and Rita Kiefer.

These old friends sitting together and talking, a scene repeated everywhere on the town square Friday evening, seemed to be the main reason people came to Mayfest.

Today's Mayfest finale begins at 8:30 a.m. with the antique tractor show, and includes the Jaycees Mayfest Bed Races on the square and the Kids Casting Derby, both from 1 to 4 p.m., and music by the show band Sh-Boom from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m.

More than 150 craft booths will be set up.

Mayfest began in 1986. A different theme is chosen every year. Jackie Wengert, executive director of the Perryville Area Chamber of Commerce, says the event is the organization's biggest fund raiser.

The square is lined with food and beer booths sponsored by community organizations. Smoked turkey legs, pork burgers, bratwurst and shish-kebabs are sold.

Georgianne Abdo, Miss Rodeo U.S.A., was there waving and signing autographs. Jimmy Lee & the 180, the band featured on the main stage, played Tony Joe White's "Poke Salad Annie" and Waylon Jennings' "Good-hearted Woman."

Perryville Mayor Bob Miget and parade grand marshal Don Welge, president and general manager of Gilster-Mary Lee Inc., were followed down the parade route by the Perryville High School marching band and later on by the Saxony Hills Community Band, whose members rode on a trailer and played "God Bless America."

The Saxony Hills band, which specializes in German tunes, will give a concert from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the Gazebo.

Politicians, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts joined the parade. Residents of Perry Oaks Manor were dressed in Mardi Gras finery. Beads were distributed. Forty-four tractors from the River Hills Antique Tractor Club in East Perry County and five equestrians brought the parade to a close.

After it was over, Tucker, Kiefer and Alkemeyer sat far from the amplified music. They debated whether the parade or the food is the number one attraction at Mayfest.

"You see a lot of people you know," Alkemeyer said.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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