Monday, February 08, 2010

Revellers Article

Jacksonville man having a ball planning Ye Mystic Revellers party

Riverside's Alan Weldon is captain of annual elaborate event for Ye Mystic Revellers

Ye Mystic Revellers

In 1923, George Hardee, a New Orleans native who moved to Jacksonville, convinced the chamber of commerce to start a Mardis Gras-style celebration called the April Follies. The slogan was "Be Yourself." Thousands crowded downtown for the longest parade in history. Hardee was a charter member of the Jesters, a club limited to 53 members, representing a deck of cards. The group was later renamed Ye Mystic Revellers. The April Follies were abandoned, but the Revellers continued and expanded its membership. It continues its storied tradition today.

Source: Ye Mystic Revellers

Alan Weldon of Riverside is planning what he hopes to be the Mardis Gras-style party of the century.

The veterinarian and father of four teenagers is a member of Ye Mystic Revellers, an 87-year-old, invitation-only men's social club founded in Ortega and known for its elaborate parties with lots of booze and debauchery. Most of the members are from the Ortega and Riverside areas, officials said.

"It's very irreverent. We make fun of politicians. Skits with guys in spandex or dresses," Weldon said. "Goofy and baudy. It's bizarre."

One year, someone brought in a bull that got loose and was circling the hall.

Cleaning up the day after is similar to the movie "The Hangover," Weldon said, laughing.

This year, Weldon is captain of the annual Revellers Ball, a black-tie affair slated for 7 to midnight Friday at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds.

As is the case every year, a queen and her court will be ordained, and there will be live comedy performances by Revellers trying to out-funny the skits of years past.

Weldon and his family have spent months developing this year's theme: Mission Impossible. In sort of a mystery theater style, a fictional group - the Society Opposed to Booze and Especially Revellers, or SOBER - will kidnap the queen in an effort to destroy the ball and the Revellers.

Weldon has already filmed the beginning video segment, in which Sister Chastity Teatotaller, SOBER leader, wearing a Sunday dress, hat and gloves, announces her evil plan to the audience.

In the end, Weldon's children, nieces and nephews, playing Scooby Doo's gang, show up to save the day.

Weldon chuckled while watching the video on his laptop.

"He loves this stuff," said Weldon's wife, Beth, whose parents, grandparents and siblings have all been Revellers. "This is his creative outlet for the year. Once you get out of school, you don't have many opportunities to get creative, do dramas and stuff like this."

In decades past, city officials and other dignitaries were Revellers, Beth Weldon said. But because the group is not a charitable cause, it fell out of favor, she said.

The ball is for adults only, but, Beth Weldon said, as a kid she was able to scoop up all the elaborate costumes that were tossed away after the ball. Decades ago, the Revellers spent more than $100,000 on parties. Today, the budget is about $35,000. Revellers pay $275 a year to belong to the club. Some fundraisers throughout the year help fill the till.

As captain, Weldon is also keeper of the massive scrapbooks of Revellers past and he's had fun reading through them. He was tickled when he found an onion skin-thin document from a laboratory showing a chemical evaluation of some moonshine.

Over the years, the ball has been held at armories, the Jacksonville Coliseum and the Prime Osborn Convention Center. For more than a decade, it was held at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium on the Southside, but the rent jumped $4,000 this year, so Weldon is moving the event to a 28,000-square-foot space at the fairgrounds.

"How do you decorate 28,000 square feet?" Weldon said, smacking his forehead.

So far, he's planning to have drapes and icicle lights surround the space.

He's hired Big Swing and the Ballroom Blasters, a 13-piece band from South Carolina promising to play a three-hour non-stop set.

So far, it's looking good. A writer from Mardis Gras Digest might be there, Weldon said.

Serving as captain is a one-time-only gig and there's no prize for the best ball, Weldon said.

"But there's bragging rights," he said.

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