Twenty years ago this February, the Magic Hat Brewing Company had a crazy idea: to gather the city of Burlington, VT, together for a Mardi Gras-themed celebration to benefit a local non-profit. The only catch was that the Vermont brewer had to figure out how to get Burlingtonians outside for several hours in the middle of winter’s coldest, most unforgiving month of February. After countless hours of asking local businesses to participate with a float, working with the city of Burlington, the police department, the fire department and many more organizations, the parade was ready to go, but the question remained: Would anyone actually show up?
No one knew.
As the motley crew of floats rounded the first corner from Main Street onto Church Street, Magic Hat was shocked to see a couple thousand screaming citizens eager to catch beads, chocolates and a glimpse of the floats. So began the annual ritual of the Magic Hat Mardi Gras Weekend.
Magic Hat has helped to thaw the frozen winter streets of downtown Burlington and, more importantly, raised money through revelry for non-profits such as HOPE Works and Vermont Foodbank for the last 19 years. Each Mardi Gras Weekend features an ice-breaking concert on the night before the parade hits the streets. Bands that have primed the city and its many guests include The Jazz Guys, Soulive, The Disco Biscuits, Deep Banana Blackout and more. When jam band heroes moe. played at the top of Church Street in 2002, both Magic Hat and the City were caught off-guard by the solid block of people that stretched from the band’s tent all the way to Pearl Street, four city blocks south.
Over the years, the Magic Hat Mardi Gras Parade has seen it all: 50-degree February days, -5 degree February days, snow storms that led to a parade being cancelled and rescheduled the following weekend, crowd surfing blow-up dolls, outrageous costumes and more. Through it all, there have been several wonderful consistencies: tens of thousands of Mardi Gras revelers, floats, beads, moonpies and, most important of all, the spectacular community support for a local non-profit group. Over 19 years, Magic Hat, the Burlington community and our many esteemed out-of-town guests have raised more than $225,000 for the Vermont Community.
It’s been a wild ride, and we're looking forward to 2015’s parade. The Magic Hat Mardi Gras Parade has grown so large over the years, it will be rolling up the only street big enough to accommodate 25,000+ screaming people and their excitement: Main Street. We look forward to seeing you in downtown Burlington the weekend of February 27th through March 1st, 2015, for the 20th annual Mardi Gras Weekend. Cheers!