John "Jojo" Hermann, second from right, will play a free outdoor show at 3 p.m. Saturday in Gondola Square with Jojo's Mardi Gras Band, shown here. Hermann, the keyboardist  for Widespread Panic, plays just a few shows per year with this boogie-woogie rhythm and blues band.

Courtesy photo

John "Jojo" Hermann, second from right, will play a free outdoor show at 3 p.m. Saturday in Gondola Square with Jojo's Mardi Gras Band, shown here. Hermann, the keyboardist for Widespread Panic, plays just a few shows per year with this boogie-woogie rhythm and blues band.

Ski Mardi Gras festival begins Friday at Steamboat Ski Area

Event includes free concerts from Sam Bush and Jojo's Mardi Gras Band

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Ski Mardi Gras schedule

■ Friday

3 p.m. Bud Light Rocks the Boat free concert featuring Sam Bush

■ Saturday

2:30 p.m. Parade from Ski Time Square into Gondola Square led by a grand marshal and jazz band followed by the “krewes” in costume

2:50 p.m. Crowning of the Rex and Queen on stage in Gondola Square

3 to 6 p.m. Beer festival, Cajun barbecue and carnival activities including face painters, palm readers and stilt walkers in Gondola Square

3 p.m. Bud Light Ski Mardi Gras concert — Jojo’s Mardi Gras Band featuring John “Jojo” Hermann, of Widespread Panic

■ Monday

9 p.m. Bourbon Street at the Bear River Bar & Grill with sing-along piano bar

■ Fat Tuesday

8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler (let the good times roll) tour of the mountain with Mardi Gras snow sculpture contest at the lifts, Fat Tuesday food and beverage contest featuring food and drink specials and bead distribution.

3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Zydeco music at the Bear River Bar & Grill

— Although typically used in connection with Mardi Gras, the saying “Laissez les bon temps rouler” fits with the atmosphere at Steamboat Ski Area throughout the entire spring season, said Steamboat Ski Corp spokeswoman Loryn Kasten.

“It’s definitely an atmosphere we’re known for in the spring,” Kasten said about the French saying, which translates to “let the good times roll.” “Everyone’s so happy that the sun is out and that the weather is good.”

While snow is expected to move into the area today, the good times will roll nonetheless during Ski Mardi Gras, a new event at the mountain.

The four-day event starts Friday and features a parade, activities, food and drink specials and two free outdoor concerts. Newgrass mandolinist Sam Bush plays at 3 p.m. Friday in Gondola Square as the second installment of the Bud Light Rocks the Boat free concert series.

On Saturday, Ski Mardi Gras will be in full swing with a free show from Jojo’s Mardi Gras Band, a boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues outfit featuring keyboardist John “Jojo” Hermann, of Widespread Panic.

Hermann said in an interview this week that he should have been born in New Orleans. Instead, he grew up in New York City, where new wave bands were emerging around the young musician.

But when someone handed him Professor Longhair’s “Crawfish Fiesta,” he was hooked on New Orleans music. And he said the only other place to find the party atmosphere and passion for live, funky music is in Colorado.

“Personally, these mountains are just so beautiful, the landscapes and everything,” Hermann said. “And Colorado’s got a real Mardi Gras feel. There isn’t anywhere else — outside of the South — that has so much appreciation for music.”

The concert is at 3 p.m. in Gondola Square right after a parade featuring Mardi Gras grand marshals, a jazz band and costumes and beads. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the parade for a chance to express an inner Mardi Gras reveler.

For Hermann, playing with his Mardi Gras band — which started one Fat Tuesday in a Tennessee church as a Professor Longhair cover band — is his freedom of expression.

“This band is an outlet for my love of boogie-woogie piano,” Hermann said.

Along with Hermann on keyboards, the band comprises Johnny Few on bass,

Kevin Mabin on drums, Bill Elder on guitar, Jonathan Jackson on saxophone and Hunter Williams on percussion.

Just a year ago, Hermann added Alfred Uganda Roberts on percussion, whose intrinsic feel for calypso and jazz, along with his long history in the New Orleans scene, has turned the band into a dream come true for Hermann.

When he was young, Roberts played on Professor Longhair records, the very records that captured Hermann and lured him into the New Orleans culture of music.

“He came into the band and it’s taken on a whole new life,” Hermann said. “It’s just amazing because the rhythms are so unique. It’s just, there’s a style that only he can play. Playing with him, I feel like I’m playing along to the records. It’s amazing when I close my eyes.”

Kasten said the Mardi Gras theme will permeate the mountain atmosphere Friday through Fat Tuesday with Cajun food specials, and a beer festival, carnival and barbecue from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re turning Steamboat into a mini version of New Orleans,” Kasten said.

— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or e-mail ninglis@steamboattoday.com

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