When Sherman leaders began looking for a signature event capable of drawing people into town on an annual basis, they were hoping to fill big a hole in the city’s cultural portfolio. What better to fill a big hole than a Fat Tuesday?

When Sherman leaders began looking for a signature event capable of drawing people into town on an annual basis, they were hoping to fill big a hole in the city’s cultural portfolio. What better to fill a big hole than a Fat Tuesday?


Local officials have been working behind the scenes for months to organize and plan a regional Mardi Gras festival they hope will one day become known as the premier such event in the area. With very little civic competition this side of Galveston, the city hopes it will be an easy sell.


"The only real Mardi Gras festival in North Texas that we could find was in Oak Cliff," said Downtown Sherman Preservation and Revitalization Executive Director Karen Tooley. "So what we’re hoping for is to get other communities to come and be involved and be a presence — you know, Howe, Van Alstyne, Denison — and I think they will. I think this is just the very beginning of something very big."


And so it will be that on Feb. 22, Sherman will unmask its inaugural Red River Mardi Gras & Jazz Festival. Mayor Cary Wacker said there are high hopes among those in local government that Tooley’s prediction will come true.


"I think that the downtown group has just captured perfectly some of that excitement, and rolled it into this event that will be unique in the region," said Wacker. "It’s very exciting to see that people have taken that challenge of, ‘How can we show what we offer as a community?’ and package it in such a way that people will want to come and see it."


The Red River event will feature typical Mardi Gras fare, with plans to expand further in coming years, said Tooley. An invitation-only Grand Ball Friday night and a downtown Cajun brunch Sunday morning will bookend the festivities on Saturday.


"We’ll have a tent half way between (the Sherman Jazz Museum) — which will be a very active location — and then the (Courthouse) square is going to have people cooking gumbo. We’ll have a big food tent out there for people to eat in, the vendors will be over there, and then we’ve got street performers: we’ve got actors and jugglers and that sort of craziness – Mardi Gras stuff."


The city’s jazz museum, which opened four years ago, is the only jazz museum between New Orleans and Kansas City, according to Bill Collins, the museum’s founder. Collins said Sherman’s legacy as a hub for the arts provides a solid foundation on which to craft the event.


"Sherman’s got a lot of artistic heritage; it was one of the top artistic cities in Texas, … and it’s known for its culture," said Collins. " So I think this (event) fits right in with our history. I think people want to come out and have a good time."


The jazz museum will host several regionally renowned musicians for the festival, headlined by Rodney Booth, whose résumé includes performances with Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and dozens of other well-known names.


"He’s a great jazz player; I think he’ll bring a lot of people up here, just him," said Collins. "I think the festival is really gaining momentum. Everybody (who) we tell wants to come. I’m thinking maybe this is the beginning of something."


Tooley, too, said early interest has exceeded expectations.


"It’s taken on a life of its own, it really has. We were thinking this would be fun, but it’s now gotten to be a little serious, with these serious jazz musicians.


"People are really fascinated by this; people are really fascinated that there’s going to be this strong character to Sherman."