, Port Arthur, Texas

March 3, 2014

Mardi Gras' big night

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Anything goes at Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas.

Walking down Procter Street Saturday afternoon, the chirps of more than 100 baby banty chicks drew walkers to James Chesney’s booth. Chesney drove to Port Arthur from his home in Hamburg, La., to sell the seven-day-old birds.

“They’re nuggets right now, but when they get bigger, we’ll ship them next door,” Chesney joked, motioning to the adjacent booth, where the aroma of sizzling meat teased passerby.

Further down the street, in front of the Trost Studio building, street performer Dallas Saupe inspired cries of awe with his myriad of death-defying acts — which included, but were not limited to, a hatchet, a machete, a Taser, and, of course, good old-fashioned fire.

“It tastes like chicken,” Saupe told one curious observer who inquired about his fire-swallowing routine after the show.

Saupe, of Clearwater Beach, Fla., was performing at Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas for the fifth year, but he has been tempting fate with his antics for far longer — 25 years.

Saupe said wryly that he learned to juggle while playing Little League in the small Illinois farm community where he grew up.

“I sat the bench a lot,” he said.

The haunting tones of Cast in Bronze could be heard from almost any location on the festival grounds. The masked performer, Frank DellaPenna, mesmerized revelers with his instrument, the carillon — a 4-ton instrumental wonder consisting of 35 bronze bells that DellaPenna and wife Anne rescued from an abandoned church in Philadelphia and used to fashion one of the only portable carillons in the world.

“My wife wanted a beach house,” DellaPenna said. “I wanted this.”

Prior to traveling the Renaissance Faire circuit with DellaPenna, the bells had remained silent for 30 years. They were cast in 1951 — the same year DellaPenna was born.

“When I saw 1951, I said, ‘Those bells have my name on them,” he said.

This was DellaPenna’s first time in Port Arthur, and he was grateful for the balmy temperatures — even more so after digging his carillon out of snow piled three feet deep.

“It was a nightmare,” said DellaPenna, who towed the carillon on a custom trailer from his home in Pennsylvania. “I like it anywhere that I can play the bells and it’s warm.”


Twitter: @ErinnPA