Keep an eye out for a giant dragon boat — larger than a school bus — filled with a bunch of Chinese impersonators at the St. Louis Mardi Gras Parade on Saturday.
You might have gone to high school with one of the revelers.
The float is the handiwork of the Rhythmic Krewe of Belvekis, which has a core group of five 1988 graduates of Althoff Catholic High School. The Krewe has been entering the parade every year since 1998.
“It’s a great way for a bunch of 45-year-old guys to be a little wild and crazy all over again,” said Mike Hatzl, a transportation company engineer and fleet manager who now lives in Hamel. The rest of the core five are David Levin, Che (pronounced SHAY) Cordes, Jerry Green and Jeff Snyder. Brian Soehnlin also has joined the group. “We all played soccer and hung out together.”
A couple more floats will represent the metro-east in this year’s bead-tossing revelry: “Fishing the Mississippi on USS Belleville” by the Eastside Mardi Gras Association; and “Light My Fire” by the Cahokia Knights of Columbus.
This year’s theme is “All Things Sports.” All krewes had to submit ideas to fit that theme and have them approved by Mardi Gras Inc., the parade organizer.
“We chose Dragon Boat Races (as in drag boat races, get it?). I drew up the plans and we get together and put it together,” Mike said. “The big thing is it has to look good on a school bus.”
Being in the Mardi Gras Parade is a lot like being in the Mafia. Once you’re in it, it’s hard to get out. They pressure you to keep in it.
Mike Hatzl on why his krewe keeps coming back
The group’s old school bus, covered with psychedelic artwork and messages such as “Can you pass the acid test,” for years was a head-turner on 17th Street in Belleville. That’s where Mike lived before following a job to Hamel.
The group sheared off the roof and removed seats, turning the passenger section into an open deck. It’s even equipped with a portable toilet. Each year, for Mardi Gras, the krewe adapts the bus to the parade theme using signs, costumes and props. This year, a giant dragon’s head sneers from the front of the makeshift boat.
“We’ll have 80 or 90 people with the float, about 50 on the bus and 30 walking next to it,” Mike said. “This year, with the dragon, I thought we’d bring in some Chinese culture and dress in traditional Chinese costumes — in a very untalented way. We do the best we can.”
Most of the people walking with the krewe are family and friends, Mike said, but there are also some work people and even some frat friends from college.
Where did they come up with a name like Rhythmic Krew of Belvekis?
“Funny story,” Mike said. “Our original name was “Never the Same.” Then one year, Che filled out the paperwork and he thought the name had to change every year. He came up with Belvekis as a made-up word for Belleville.”
The Belvekis krewe has no plans to give up its spot in the parade fun any time soon.
“Being in the Mardi Gras Parade is a lot like being in the Mafia,” Mike said. “Once you’re in it, it’s hard to get out. They pressure you to keep in it.”
The East Side Mardi Gras Association’s “Fishing the Mississippi on USS Belleville” float will have a big paddlewheel attached to the back of the Crehan’s Irish Pub bus, fish nets and other boat props, said Kevin McCarkel, president of the group.
Members aboard the USS Belleville will be wearing fishing attire.
“We’ll have people walking alongside, too,” McCarkel said. “Four will be dressed in catfish costumes and two will be in turtle costumes.”
The Eastside Mardi Gras Association has 25 members and has had a float in the parade for 13 years. It has fundraising events throughout the year and had its Mardi Gras Ball last weekend in Belleville. “We donate money to various charities,” McCarkel said.
You can bet all three metro-east floats will be throwing out beads with the best of them.
At a glance
Here’s what you need to know about the St. Louis Mardi Gras Parade.
- What: Krewes from more than 100 floats will toss more than 10 million strands of beads to spectators along the route.
- When: 11 a.m. Saturday
- Where: Soulard Neighborhood in St. Louis, starting at Busch Stadium and ending at Anheuser-Busch Brewery.
- Free shuttle: to and from Laclede’s Landing; pickup at Second Street and Laclede’s Landing Boulevard from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Bud Light Block Party: 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Ninth and Geyer streets.
Bud Light Party Tent
- When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Soulard Market Park
- Tickets: $99
- Features: open bar, music provided by Rockstar DJs, large dance floor, giveaways, beads, and food from Joanie’s Pizzeria.