You don't have to jet to the Big Easy to enjoy a little Mardi Gras revelry.
A Mardi Gras Festival in Lawrence will boast the sparkling beads, festive masks and live music of the real deal in New Orleans. But proceeds from this February party will help in the local fight against AIDS.
The annual Douglas County AIDS Project fund-raiser, which for the past 12 years has taken the form of a Valentine's Dance, raises more than $10,000 for the organization that serves Douglas, Franklin and Jefferson counties.
National recording artist Kelley Hunt, who has played at the benefit every year since its inception, will return for the Saturday concert at Liberty Hall, 642 Mass.
"It's a way for me to come home, play for the event, see everybody and give back a little bit," the Emporia native and Kansas University alumna said during a phone interview from Florida, where she was touring last week. "I don't play in Lawrence very often any more."
Hunt, who's been in the studio recording a new album she hopes to release by summer, will play a few new songs at the festival. She said she loved the idea of Mardi Gras -- she has family from New Orleans -- but that she would play for the benefit no matter what its theme.
"The most important thing is to help raise money for DCAP," Hunt said. "(AIDS is) a worldwide issue, but it's really affected our area in all aspects: men, women, children, straight, gay, you name it. I think it's a great way to raise money."
Hoping to keep the party going later into the night, DCAP this year has added a second band to the bill. Lawrence-based reggae group Common Ground will take the stage at 11 p.m. after Hunt wraps up her show.
Drummer Joe Cameron, Kansas City, Mo., described the band's sound as distinctive, thanks mostly to its horn section.
"It's hard-hitting, hard-edge reggae," he said. "Whatever makes your hips move, we like to play it."
The group, which has been around for about 18 years, always has been outspoken politically, Cameron said.
"The early onset of the AIDS epidemic was typified by criminal neglect on the part of the government. People who had the power to stop it didn't," he said. "I just think it's an excellent cause. This is certainly something that needs a voice."
In addition to musical entertainment, food and drinks, partygoers will be able to bid in a silent auction on items donated by local businesses. Mask making, bead throwing and a booth where revelers can dress in Mardi Gras garb for photographs also will be available.
Last year's dance raised just more than $10,200, said Sidney Hardgrave, DCAP's executive director. This year's goal is $13,000.
The significant hike is "just a reflection of the economy," she said. "Our grants are not covering the same proportion of our agency's expenses as they once did."
DCAP served 61 clients in 2001 through client advocacy, case management, food bank/vouchers, transportation, supportive counseling and by providing nearly $19,000 in emergency assistance. In the same year, DCAP also offered 80 community presentations, 50 information displays at community events and distributed more than 59,000 condoms.
|What: Douglas County AIDS Project Mardi Gras Festival.When: 7 p.m. Saturday.Where: Liberty Hall, 642 Mass.Featured artists: R&B; singer, songwriter and piano player Kelley Hunt, performing at 8 p.m., and reggae band Common Ground, taking the stage at 11 p.m.Tickets: $16, or $8 after 10:30 p.m.|