First Annual Mardi Gras
A Festival to Benefit the Space Coast Early Intervention Center
Downtown Melbourne, FL • 2.21.98
The night was clear, crisp, but not too cold. The stars were out and so were the crowds, who had too recently been trapped inside for what seemed like weekends on end, waiting for the rain and tornadoes to stop. On Saturday, February 21st, what began as a start to an annual tradition may have ended before the tradition could begin. That night, 2,000-3,000 people flooded a two-block area of Downtown Melbourne, raising, from gate proceeds alone, $12,500 for the Space Coast Early Intervention Center.
Participants paid $5 to enter the street festival and were greeted with live music, strolling costumed performers, glow-in-the-dark necklaces, beads, and street vendors hawking a variety of food choices and an assortment of alcoholic creations. The event was the brainchild of local club Ozio’s owner, Tony Diana. Although originally a publicity ploy, his friendship with the founders of Space Coast Early Intervention Center turned the event into a joint venture. According to Mr. Diana, a misprint in the local newspaper started the problems; it stated that admission was free. “A correction was printed in Saturday’s paper, but by then people had already seen the ad in Friday’s paper, and how many are going to look for more in Saturday’s?”
The simple fact that admission was charged has Mr. Diana under fire from the City Council, in their attempts to block any future festivals of this sort. “There is a City policy, not ordinance, not a law, that admission cannot be charged to street festivals.” This “policy” has future festival plans in limbo.
As the lines at the drink stands attested, people were there to party and grateful for Mr. Diana’s efforts. Whether it was the sheer relief of the respite in the weather, or the feeling that the long “winter confinement” was reaching an end, people seemed to wallow in the event, wandering from the stage by the entrance gates at the eastern end to the food stands at the western end. In between, Ozio’s doors were wide open, providing a beacon of light and sound to beckon in the revelers.
The mostly upper-twenties and older crowd enjoyed it all, as attendance proved. The attendance, however, though a delight to Mr. Diana, was more than the City Council had anticipated, and caused additional problems. For a 40-minute period that night, Ozio’s was deemed in non-compliance with the City Occupancy Codes. This was remedied and Ozio’s reopened to the grateful crowds. Grateful for not only the music, where the DJ’s were catering to the “older” crowd with music from the ’70s and ’80s, but also grateful for access to a bathroom (the unexpected attendance left the few porta-pottys with lines 40 minutes long).
Street festivals, long a Cocoa Village tradition (where admission to some events is charged), have been long in coming to Melbourne. Melbourne (and Brevard County) has suffered for years from a lack of adequate venues for live music. Street festivals offer this opportunity. The Space Coast Early Intervention Center, Ozio’s, and most importantly, the local residents all welcomed this chance to party close to home, see friends, and hear local bands. The future? If agreements can be reached, the downtown street festival has the potential to be the local venue desperately needed to showcase Brevard and Florida talent.