Mad for Mardi Gras |

Mad for Mardi Gras

It was a little cloudy and cool Sunday afternoon, but the weather for Nevada City’s Mardi Gras parade was a huge improvement over years past.

Revelers lined both sides of Broad Street and hung out the windows of businesses as a privileged few lounged high above the fray on balconies overlooking the floats. Beads flew both ways as parade contestants lobbed necklaces into the crowds and some returned the favor.

At the National Hotel, “balcony guardian” Ken Fletcher was all smiles as he surveyed the large and good-natured crowd.

“In eight years, I think there’s only been one day like this, with no rain,” he said.

Two years ago, snow forced the parade’s cancellation. And last year, “it poured the whole time,” said volunteer Karen Marinovich. “On Pine Street, there was a river running down the street that was ankle-deep.”

One group that remained staunch last year despite the torrents of icy rain was popular trash can-drummers Petting Zoo, Marinovich recalled.

“They played with no shirts on,” she said. “Every time they hit a trash can, water just flew up in the air.”

This year, the trio kept their shirts off as they pounded out a driving beat on garbage cans, bottles and even dustpans.

Petting Zoo started in 2000 when members Adam Litke, Shawn Robbins and Jack Walker played in the Nevada Union marching band.

“We just hit it off,” Litke said. “We were the immature ones. We couldn’t follow directions. We just wanted to play as fast as we could and as loud as we could.”

Robbins’ parents, who were running City Centre Playhouse at the time, had put together a Carole King revue. The boys were asked to come in and drum on the props on the “back alley” set during one lengthy costume change.

“We walked out and did our thing and ended up stealing the show,” Litke recalled with a smile.

After the show ended for the night, he said, the trio often ended up in the parking lot, “drumming on whatever.”

Eventually, someone asked them what the band was called.

“We started tossing around stupid names and someone threw out Petting Zoo,” he said. “It makes no sense, but that’s what stuck.”

Then people started asking the band what they would charge to play a gig.

The band was dumbfounded, so naive they asked for just $30 to play the whole day.

“It just bloomed from there,” Litke said, with Petting Zoo eventually performing four or five nights a week during the summer.

“We did five or six weddings, one in Hawaii,” he said. “That was cool … We did a TV commercial.”

Even after Robbins and Walker graduated, it was fairly easy for the band to get together. Walker was living in the Bay Area and Robbins was attending Sierra College. Robbins transferred to UC Davis, but the band still played fairly frequently.

“Now Shawn’s married and has a kid, so that’s slowed things down,” Litke said.

The trio has never considered taking on new members, he said, adding, “It’s us three or nothing.”

And they never took it seriously enough to consider recording an album or taking it to a more professional level, rarely rehearsing, he said.

“We’re all best friends, we can goof around and get paid money to do it,” Litke explained. “We knew off the bat this was just a thing for fun.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail or call 477-4229.

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