‘Laissez les bon temps roulez’ – there’s a right way
In the gold mining camps of the Sierra 150 years ago, any excuse for a party or sporting event was seized on by miners as a way to break up the winter tedium. Joe Cain Day, celebrated in Nevada City with a colorful procession through town during Mardi Gras, is in the same tradition, though it has only been around since 1992.
The event has become very popular, very quickly. At this year’s event – held last February – an estimated 8,000 revelers cavorted, hooted, danced and leaped to catch plastic necklaces tossed by costumed marchers along Broad Street.
But an ugliness crept into this year’s party. More than 15 arrests were made for public drunkenness and other violations, and Police Chief Lou Trovato said twice as many could have been booked if he’d had more officers. Ten police officers, both full time and reserves, were patrolling the event, and one was kneed in the groin during a scuffle.
Under city rules, people can drink alcohol on the streets during certain festivals such as Joe Cain Day, Victorian Christmas, the Fourth of July and Summer Nights.
The Joe Cain Society – the event’s organizer – has had enough. It has threatened to pull the plug on the party unless open alcohol containers are banned by the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce. (The chamber generally represents event organizers in seeking permits from the city.)
Joseph Stillwell Cain was a Confederate veteran credited with reviving the celebration of Mardi Gras in Mobile, Ala., after the Civil War. He dressed up as an Indian chief and with six other ex-Rebels, marched through town to taunt Union troops occupying the city.
The Joe Cain Society was formed to continue the tradition, and Nevada City’s chapter was sanctioned to hold the only official Joe Cain procession outside of Mobile. But it has obviously become something that local organizers never intended. The society’s Ruth Poulter said that “the procession is for children and is a family event, and we’re not sure what happened.”
Other reactions have been mixed. Chamber member Greg Cook said banning open containers on the street is worth trying for one year. Chamber executive manager Cathy Whittlesey said that if organizers cancel the parade, it would put a serious dent in Nevada City’s income from tourism.
Hard-core revelers, however, say to heck with the kids and families, and “laissez les bon temps roulez!” (Cajun French for “let the good times roll!”). Police Chief Trovato, who would have to enforce a ban on street booze, has been curiously silent on an open-container ban, saying he has not been officially contacted about it.
There is precedent for such a move. This summer, after the Joe Cain arrests, the chamber “suggested” that bar owners not sell glass containers at Summer Nights. (The suggestion didn’t seem to have much effect.) In June, Nevada City banned consumption of alcohol at Pioneer Park, on city trails and other public property without a permit because it has led to fights, littering, theft and graffiti.
The local Joe Cain Society was founded in the mining camp tradition according to Del Langhorst, an original member, as a way “to brighten up an otherwise dreary February.” But in a letter to The Union, he stated that the society and chamber have publicized and promoted the event “beyond the ability of bars or the city to control it.”
One reason our area is an attractive tourist destination is the colorful events that take place in Nevada City and other towns. The question is, do we want these celebrations to be events we enjoy and invite others to share? Or do we want them to become freak shows for flatlanders – “bait” to attract money? Ask residents of New Orleans, who shun the French Quarter during Mardi Gras and have family friendly parades in their own neighborhoods. Or residents of Daytona Beach, who stay away from the beach during spring break.
Let’s give the open container ban a try next year. We should have fun our way, and that shouldn’t mean puking in a gutter, flashing in front of kids, or kicking police in the crotch.
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