Alison Cocker and Michael Livkar of Marina share a piece of

Mushroom Mardi Gras drew its biggest crowds ever and gave away
more money than last year after committing a festival faux pas –
there was no toilet paper and no water for hand washing Saturday
morning inside 45 portable toilets.
Morgan Hill – Mushroom Mardi Gras drew its biggest crowds ever and gave away more money than last year after committing a festival faux pas – there was no toilet paper and no water for hand washing Saturday morning inside 45 portable toilets.

“We were a bit caught off guard by the large crowds,” said event organizer Sunday Minnich, adding crews quickly fixed the toilet-paper problem. “As soon as we started hearing complaints our volunteers took care of it. We kept an eye on it all weekend after that.”

Despite the unexpected crowds and sanitary issues the guesstimated 60,000 festival-goers reveled at the two-day event, which for the first time was held at the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center and parts of Depot Street.

“It’s always a great Memorial Day weekend when someone else is doing the barbecuing!” laughed Cherie Camarlinghi of Almaden, hanging out with friends near the food booths Saturday afternoon.

As usual, Mushroom Mardi Gras featured “gourmet” cooking from local non-profit and school groups raising money for their activities. Sauteed Mushrooms – historically one of Morgan Hill’s top crops – took center stage.

“We whipped up a secret sauce last weekend,” said Wayne Weller, director of the Gilroy Elks Club, which brought in 50 pounds of mushrooms to sell. “It’s a great chance for us to promote ourselves and raise money in the community.”

The 28th annual Mardi Gras raised between $12,000 and $15,000 for local charities that volunteered at the event. Additionally, the non-profit Mushroom Mardi Gras, Inc. gave out 30 scholarships worth a combined $30,000 to high school seniors from Live Oak, Sobrato and Central Continuation high schools.

Like last year, the festival cost about $175,000 to run, including fees paid to the city for permits and police officers.

Some of those who’ve seen the festival grow from its roots as a fundraiser for the fire department are pleased with the results.

“It used to be this small fundraiser and now it has a great community feel to it,” said Gary Hubbard, a former volunteer fireman who worked at the first Mushroom Mardi Gras in October 1980, organized by then-Morgan Hill Fire Chief Brad Spencer. “I also like the new layout and the diversity of vendors. It feels a lot roomier than last year” when the event was held on Monterey Road.

Some regulars, however, questioned this year’s change of venue.

“We could understand why they had to move it from (Community Park), but why didn’t they leave it downtown like last year? asked San Jose resident Cathy White.

Vendor J.P. Morgan with Shell Vacations Club said he preferred the festival downtown, too.

“There was more space, it seemed,” he said. “It just was a better atmosphere.”

On Sunday, the festival swelled with visitors from outside Morgan Hill, some of them Mardi Gras regulars, others who were enjoying the event for the first time.

“I think the food and the music are great,” said Carly Lee, who came to Morgan Hill from Sacramento with a group of friends as first-time festival-goers. “We haven’t really had a chance to see all the other vendors yet, because we’ve been just eating and staying near the stage.”

The Ramirez family from Salinas said they try to make it to the Mardi Gras every year.

“The rides and the funnel cakes are awesome,” added 7-year-old Sammy Ramirez.

As usual, microbrews and wines from local vineyards enticed patrons along with live musical entertainment on two stages and an increasingly popular children’s carnival called Munchkin Land featuring rides, animals and games.

Older children also enjoyed rock-climbing, bungy-jumping and laser-shooting thrills.

A never-ending line of autos found it easier to park thanks to the Emerald Regime marching band and color guard from Live Oak High School, which directed hundreds of cars into a dirt lot at the corner of Church Street and Dunne Avenue for $5 donations.

Additionally, volunteers from Sobrato High School’s wrestling team helped organizers clean up throughout the weekend.

Other groups that helped at the festival included the local Pop Warner football team, the Knights of Columbus, the Morgan Hill Lions Club and the boys and girls volleyball teams from Live Oak.

“I thought it all worked out great,” said Dan Sullivan, president of the Mushroom Mardi Gras board of directors, who helped with extra clean-up work Monday morning. “All our sales were up from last year and I didn’t hear anything negative from our vendors. Some people still liked the event more when it was at Community Park, but I thought having it at the community center gave it some of the that open feel.”

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