Big changes are coming to an annual celebration this month in Burlington, Vermont, which is put on by a famous name in the beer world.
Magic Hat's Mardi Gras celebration will continue for its 24th year, but without one of its most popular traditions: the parade that has historically drawn large crowds to cheer for floats and catch beads thrown from them.
"Mother Nature really hasn't been good to us," the president of Magic Hat, Mark Hegedus, remarked Wednesday, recalling dangerous sub-zero wind chills in 2017 that he said had the company starting to think about alternative ways to celebrate.
This year, the celebration runs from March 29 to March 31.
Instead of the parade on March 30, that Saturday will feature live music, street performers and activities for a range of ages up and down the Church Street Marketplace — including kid-friendly fun.
News the parade was nixed came as a disappointment to some.
"I'm bummed that they're not going to have it this year," Charles Knoll of Burlington said of the parade, adding that he has fond memories of appearing on a float with his father when he was a child.
"It just won't be the same, for sure," added Anya Posey of Burlington, who noted that she still will likely check out the revamped activities.
Organizers insist there's a big upside to the move.
Magic Hat and the Church Street Marketplace said they expect the change will encourage people to explore more of the shopping and dining options on the marketplace and downtown, rather than simply lining Main Street for the parade and leaving after the bead-tossing ends.
"It's an opportunity to have an event that's going to get people out of their houses, get them downtown, and remind them of all the things that we have," said Ron Redmond of the Church Street Marketplace, who said he will consider the event as a celebration of the start of spring.
Redmond said he hopes attendees will also stay downtown longer than they used to for the parade, especially with the event now pushed from early-or-mid March to the end of the month — when it should be a bit warmer.
"Yes, some people stayed downtown and went into [Magic Hat] accounts or restaurants or bars, but then a lot of people kind of left and moved on," Hegedus said, explaining that he considers the new vision for Magic Hat's Mardi Gras as beneficial to the community because it aims to keep people on and around Church Street for more of the afternoon on March 30.
A Mardi Gras ball will be held the evening of March 30 in the Contois Auditorium, with a $15 ticket required. Other events, including music performances and art projects for kids, are free.
Restaurant manager Mychaella Devaney said the Church Street Tavern has long relied on Mardi Gras, along with St. Patrick's Day, for a significant business boost in what’s otherwise often a quiet month.
"It's one of our busiest times," Devaney said of Burlington's Mardi Gras. "With this [change], we're not really sure what to expect. We're optimistic — we hope it's as busy as it has been in the past — but we don't know."
Money raised during Magic Hat's Mardi Gras will benefit the Howard Center's street outreach team.