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The cast of South Pacific performs during the Premier Arts parade as part of Elkhart's Jazz Festival Friday, June 21, 2013. (Truth Photo by Julia Moss) (Julia Moss)

DeJa Donaldson, 5, wears her authentic New Orleans Mask to the Premier Arts parade during Elkhart's Jazz Festival Friday, June 21, 2013. (Truth Photo by Julia Moss) (Julia Moss)

Local historian Paul Thomas rides a small red car at the head of the Premier Arts parade during Elkhart's Jazz Festival Friday, June 21, 2013. (Truth Photo by Julia Moss) (Julia Moss)

Alex Kilmer, 15, laughs as Geoff Owens uses Brad Corns', 16, costume axe to help relieve an itch caused by face paint before the Premier Arts parade during Elkhart's Jazz Festival Friday, June 21, 2013. (Truth Photo by Julia Moss) (Julia Moss)

Reagan Stephenson, 14, sits in a carriage dressed as Cinderella with six girls dressed as horses pulling her before the Premier Arts parade during Elkhart's Jazz Festival Friday, June 21, 2013. (Truth Photo by Julia Moss) (Julia Moss)

Clarinetist Dave Bennett sits on a float with Sydney Hickman, 8, and Olivia Mann, 7, before the Premier Arts parade during Elkhart's Jazz Festival Friday, June 21, 2013. (Truth Photo by Julia Moss) (Julia Moss)

Mayor Dick Moore holds his hat while on a Premier Arts parade float with Sydney Hickman, 8, as winds from incoming storms threaten to blow it away during Elkhart's Jazz Festival Friday, June 21, 2013. (Truth Photo by Julia Moss) (Julia Moss)

Erika Corson talks to Kelly Davis as Matthew Corson, 8, puts beads over his mother's neck before the Premier Arts parade during Elkhart's Jazz Festival Friday, June 21, 2013. (Truth Photo by Julia Moss) (Julia Moss)
The threat of stormy weather moved the official opening ceremony into the Lerner Theatre, but the rain didn’t stop the New Orleans-themed parade.
Posted on June 21, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on June 21, 2013 at 7:12 p.m.

ELKHART — The Elkhart Jazz Festival has a history that dates back to 1987, but this year marked a first for the 26-year-old event.

The jazz festival opened Friday, June 21, with its first Mardi Gras parade featuring a procession of dancers, a Dixieland jazz band, cars, Cinderella’s carriage and energetic revelers.

“Each and every year for the jazz festival, they think of new concepts, like this parade,” said Elkhart mayor Dick Moore, who rode on one of the Mardi Gras floats. “Each year, it gets bigger and better. There are so many events outside of the jazz festival downtown. All over the community, people are having parties and celebrating. People are really grabbing ahold of it.”

Moore shared the spotlight on a float with his favorite jazz festival musician, clarinetist Dave Bennett. Bennett has performed at the festival for 10 years.

“This is great. What a wonderful way to kick the jazz festival off,” Bennett said about the parade.

After a slight change in plans because of rain clouds hanging above downtown, the opening of the jazz festival was relocated from the public stage at Civic Plaza to the Lerner Theatre. The mayor welcomed festivalgoers and thanked volunteers and businesses for their support of the city’s largest music event.

After an evening of music at six venues set up downtown, swing guitarist John Pizzarelli and his quartet charmed a crowd at the Lerner Theatre.

The jazz festival continues at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, June 22, with a full day of entertainment.

Three people will receive lifetime achievement awards for their dedication to the festival at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Lerner Theatre. The honorees are long-time volunteer and original festival committee member Paul Thomas, musician Terry Myers and businessman Rocky Giglio.

Headliner Wynton Marsalis will take the stage with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lerner.

The festival will wrap up Sunday, June 23, with 18 performances by local and national jazz artists.