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"The first year there were thirteen shirts," Apple says. "The next year, we made two dozen shirts. Last year we made 240 shirts, and this year we're making more."
Perez took it upon himself to craft a giant "spirit stick," a tall pole that marks the Krewe's location at massive events. The spirit stick, crowned by a toy pony similar to those found on carousels, also provided the inspiration for Perez's nickname, Big Chief Pony Dancer.
As the Pet de Kat Krewe's membership grew beyond the confines of South Florida and spread throughout the States, the group realized it needed a more visible spirit stick, one that could be seen from California to Canada. The answer was www.petdekat.com, a virtual meeting place where members can pass on information, post reviews, and link to related sites. The site has received some 19,000 hits. Enthusiasts as far away as Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and Canada's Baffin Island have subsequently joined the Pet de Kat Krewe.
While no one will say exactly where the first part of the Krewe's name came from, a couple of guesses have been bandied about: Either it has something to do with Apple's frenzied dancing style or a legendary cat known for swaying on its hind legs to zydeco music. Then again the name might have been dreamt up in 1982 by three college students from UCLA, or by a group of Chicago hippies in 1969, or by the townsfolk of Dekkatrois, Louisiana, in 1879. It depends on who's doing the explaining.
The Krewe's collective sense of whimsy has earned it a few notable admirers in New Orleans: Pet de Kat T-shirts have been spotted on the up-and-coming zydeco accordionist Terrence Simien as well as members of The Radiators and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Here in South Florida, the Krewe's ceaseless lobbying for New Orleans-themed events seems to have paid off. This weekend, February 20-22, Fiesta Tropicale brings Mardi Gras to Young Circle Park in Hollywood. Along with crawfish, shrimp, jambalaya, and other Louisiana-style munchies, Fiesta Tropicale will feature music by NRBQ (New Rhythm and Blues Quartet) and the zydeco legend C.J. Chenier.
This year marks the return of Fiesta Tropicale after a 32-year absence; it began in 1935 and ran out of steam in 1966. The festival's organizer, David Errickson, has faith that the Pet de Kat Krewe will set the standard for the "second-line" revelers on parade day.
"In New Orleans the people that follow along behind the parade and kind of have their own parade are called the second line," Errickson explains. "Well, I'm pretty sure the Pet de Kat Krewe will be the second line. They say they're coming, they show up, and they party."
"They're great supporters of what we do," says Debbie Boland, city festival coordinator for the City of Fort Lauderdale Parks and Recreation Department. "The Pet de Kat Krewe always brings a big crowd, and they're always very supportive of Cajun culture in our area."
"What we're doing has really grown; we're expanding and mushrooming," Perez says. "We support the new stuff and the classic stuff. If you get a pair of spoons and a stick and make it sound good, send it on down, we'll play it. It doesn't have to be highly polished. We want everybody to tune in, and we guarantee that if you put that radio on and you don't shake your ass or tap your foot, well, you're dead."
The Crescent City cohosts admit that they'd like to see their show get picked up for national syndication and acknowledge that snagging a prime slot on National Public Radio would be a dream come true. But they've already exceeded the expectations they had when they began broadcasting a year ago, often paying for the airtime out of their own pockets. This month Perez and Apple will travel to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and broadcast their show via satellite to South Florida.
"We started the show to pass on our love of real roots music," Perez says. "There's a hell of a lot of sounds to be found, and the roots musics from Louisiana are incomparable to any other. They put them all together into a pot, and they come up with a sound that you can't hear anywhere else, and that sound is guaranteed to provide a good time. And whatever you pull out of the pot, it's always red hot!"
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