A Capitol Mardi Gras

Parade celebrates what makes city unique

By Jessica Laskey
February 2023

I don’t want to give anything away, but Wes Samms’ outfit for the City of Trees Parade Feb. 18 is amazing. I got a sneak peek of the sequined suit jacket he had custom-made in Thailand. It’s spectacular.

The word “spectacular” comes up a lot during our conversation. It describes the tradition of Mardi Gras as a “showcase of culture, music and art.” It covers Sacramento’s diverse talent pool. It includes Burning Man, which plays a part in this month’s festivities.

Most important, it describes the City of Trees Parade.

“Mardi Gras is such a fantastic event,” says Samms, a veteran of 13 New Orleans Mardi Gras. “The perception that outsiders have is completely wrong. It’s not debaucherous, it’s actually quite family-focused.

“It’s about kids and high school marching bands, young children sitting on step ladders catching beads while their parents sip beer in lawn chairs watching the parades go by. It’s a community-oriented event where local performing arts groups get to walk out in front of hundreds of thousands of people and show what they can do.”

The Kansas-born Samms grew up in Texas and New Orleans and moved to Sacramento in 2012 for a job. He later tried the Bay Area and realized he missed the City of Trees. He returned eight years ago, vowing to show others what’s special about his chosen home.

“With the City of Trees Parade, we’re celebrating Sacramento culture in the same way New Orleans does,” he says. “Nobody needs that more than Sacramento. We’re so down on ourselves all the time. Sacramento doesn’t believe it’s a beautiful, wonderful place to be. Maybe if we lift it up more and show people what’s right here, people will think, wow, I’m really lucky to live in Sacramento.”

Samms is no stranger to organizing large events. He joined the environmental advocacy group March for Science Sacramento in 2018. He oversaw a 12,000-person protest in 2019 and a youth climate strike in 2020.

The pandemic made operations shrink, but he managed to organize a chalk-out, a mural in Jazz Alley and a 350-person garbage pickup along local waterways.

Craving a change, Samms reincorporated the group as the nonprofit Curiosity Collaborative and brainstormed new ways to gather local people. A Mardi Gras-themed birthday party in 2021 clicked, and soon Samms was planning his first City of Trees Parade for 2022.

Last year’s event drew approximately 15,000 people to Downtown and Old Sac, including 600 paraders. Samms estimates it was the biggest Mardi Gras parade in California. He intends to outdo himself Feb. 18.

This year’s parade features more than 1,000 participants from 28 local groups, including the Grant Union High School Drumline, Sac Dance Lab, Bike Party Sacramento and Krewe of Trees, which anyone can join for a fee to help support the parade.

There’s more: a king and queen nominated by the community and art car floats from Burning Man. Festival favorites Deco Fish and Cuddlepillar will roll.

Spectators can enjoy food trucks, community booths, art vendors, live music and an alcoholic beverage garden along Capitol Mall. Once the parade hits Old Sac, the party continues at Louisiana Sue’s Cajun Food and Music Fest, a separate ticketed event run by Mardi Gras aficionado Sue Ramon.

Samms says beads thrown during the parade have been recycled from previous New Orleans Mardi Gras. “We started as an environmental organization, so this feels true to our values,” he notes.

Keep your eyes peeled for Sacramento’s custom throw—100 stuffed Rare Bears handmade by artists at Atrium.

“Seeing that expressiveness coming out is what this is all about,” Samms says. “All of these wonderful things are lying around. You just have to get them together.”

To sponsor a float, join Krewe of Trees or for information, visit curiositycollaborative.org.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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