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Bead toss draws a crowd as Mardi Gras gets Fun Fest under way

Kristen Buckles • Jul 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The sunlight sparkled off the vibrant necklace that spun through the air. Arms extended and fingers stretched, adults and children strained to reach the elusive goal: Mardi Gras beads.

A hand finally grasped the beads, and a triumphant grandmother threw them around her neck. Sighs marked the disappointment of those nearby, but hands shot back into the air, ready for more.

The Fun Fest spirit — and the colorful beads — drew thousands of people for the official start of the festivities, Mardi Gras.

Friday’s all-day event began at 11:30 a.m. with a kickoff from the Fun Fest Executive Committee, followed by the first bead toss. The Fun Fest and Mardi Gras committees tossed hundreds of beads to the crowd gathered in Glen Bruce Park.

“The bead toss has always generated a lot of excitement,” said Sharon Kilgore, co-chair of the Mardi Gras Committee.

“We have special tosses for the kids so they can have their own time –– seniors, too.”

Some did not participate in the toss because they were too busy locating the vendors who had bead stations. At the stations, vendors would stamp a bingo card that, when complete, participants could turn in for the evening prize drawing.

One girl, 6-year-old Callie Jo Wright, insisted that the beads are her favorite part of the first day of Fun Fest.

Her mother, April Ausborne, predicted her response.

“We do the bead collection every year,” she said. “It’s fun to walk and collect the beads.”

Mardi Gras offers many other things besides collecting beads.

“I think it’s a great event to kick off Fun Fest because it brings everybody out,” Kilgore said. “There are lots of things for all ages. There’s plenty for the kids to do. It’s just a good event for everybody to enjoy.”

Children jumped on the inflatables, and crowds gathered to meet Sparky from the Kingsport Fire Department. There was also a rock wall and several concerts, including the CBS Early Show’s Singing Family Face Off winners, J4.

“They’re good,” said Stephanie Carter, a Kingsport teenager. “(Josiah’s) like Michael Jackson the way he just twisted.”

After the J4 concert, cheering turned to teasing catcalls as 10 men took the stage for the Pretty Legs contest.

Gary Alexander, who received the Chicken Legs Award, decorated his legs with roses, beads and vines. After the contest, he commented on the benefits of Mardi Gras.

“This is fantastic entertainment for the entire community,” he said. “We’ve just come in to enrich the spirit of everybody. I’m glad to see the community participate. It’s what brings us out once a year and is a great addition to the community.”

Tommy O’quinn just moved his family to Kingsport from Chicago two weeks ago. He showed off a bag full of beads from the toss.

“I got hit in the face two times,” he said, laughing. “It was like someone was doing it on purpose.”

“So far, so good,” his wife, Julie O’quinn, said. “We’ll be broke by the time it’s over.”

Her husband, however, was unconcerned.

“We’ll just start selling beads.”

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