The big reveal: Who will reign as king and queen of Mardi Gras?

The big reveal: Who will reign as king and queen of Mardi Gras?

First Princess of the Woonsocket Mardi Gras 2016, Judith Potter, left, of Woonsocket, dances with Robert Leonard, of the band Slippery Sneakers, and Cheryle Ihrg, of Coventry, at last year’s Mardi Gras celebration. (Breeze file photo by Charles Lawrence)
Clues about ‘King Jace’ circling around town for Saturday’s unveiling

WOONSOCKET – Come this Saturday, royalty will begin to reign over Woonsocket.

Both the 2017 Mardi Gras queen and king will be unveiled at this year’s cocktail party coronation, held a week ahead of the city’s annual celebration hosted by the Northern Rhode Island Council of the Arts.

“It’s a great way to get rid of the winter blues,” Romeo Berthiaume of NRICA said, one of the committee members who organizes the city’s celebration each year.

In years past, he explained, the identity of “King Jace XXIII” was kept secret until the night of the Mardi Gras ball, when a faux beard and wig the man wears in disguise are disrobed by the queen. This year instead, Marlene Gagnon of the planning committee said, “He’ll have a week to reign as King Jace.”

The queen is selected from a group of contestants after selling the most tickets to the affair, which includes a raffle for $500, a $300 gift certificate to Mohegan Sun, a $100 Visa card, or a $50 gift card to River Falls, where the coronation will be held Saturday, Feb. 18, from 6 to 8 p.m.

She and the rest of the princesses will be named Saturday evening, before the man in the costume is revealed.

It’s always a thrill to find out who “King Jace” is, she and Berthiaume said, and just a few folks of the committee know who has been selected until he’s unveiled by the queen.

Chuckling, Gagnon said, “She kind of takes him apart, piece by piece.”

This year, committee members provided a list of clues to help locals guess who the king might be. Among the clues are the following:

• The king prefers the serenity of the ocean to large noisy crowds

• Rejects escargot for a simple chicken dinner

• Earned a bachelor’s degree, but is now a family man

• Loves the excitement of travel, dislikes the routine of a daily schedule

• Is frequently on the run

• Has a way with words

• Has been honored in the past

• Has many friends who are veterans

• Is a local boy, but his work is known far and wide

• Listens well

At the coronation, Berthiaume said, folks will have the chance to place their guesses in a $1 “clues contest,” where the winner will keep the funds from the guessing game. Should there be multiple event-goers that predict who the king is, the winners will split the pot, he explained.

For both the coronation party and Mardi Gras Ball, Berthiaume said, this new way of doing things might draw a larger crowd to the celebrations, held in February each year.

It’s a move Gagnon said will also satisfy the folks from out of town that travel just to hear the zydeco music.

“The dancers want to dance, they don’t want to lose a minute,” she said.

The entertainment for this year’s Mardi Gras Ball, to be held Saturday, Feb. 25 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., is local group Jeff Gamache and Runaway Train, who will primarily perform country music, and Slippery Sneakers, another local band that will rock out with zydeco, blues and soul music, Berthiaume said.

Doors will open at the St. Ann Arts & Cultural Center, 84 Cumberland Street, Woonsocket, at 5 p.m. the night of the ball, and a Cajun buffet will be served from 6 to 8 p.m.

Tickets are $30 in advance, and $35 at the door, if tickets are still available. Each year, Berthiaume said, the celebration has sold out completely. Tickets can be purchased by calling Lorraine Cloutier at 401-762-9072, or emailing lcloutier1@cox.net .

Somehow, in the 23 years NRICA has been sponsoring the festivities in February, which initially started up in the 1950s in town, the celebration has yet to be canceled due to snow or harsh winter conditions, Gagnon and Berthiaume said.

Speaking of the former head organizer, the late Jack Lawhead, Gagnon said it might be his doing that’s allowed NRICA to put on the Mardi Gras Ball time and time again.

“We always say that Jack is looking down on us,” she said.