Beads Are Power

The Krewe of Utopia brings the currency of Mardi Gras to the ATX

Bob Uhler and 200,000 strands of beads
Bob Uhler and 200,000 strands of beads (Photo by Kate X Messer)

"I went down to Sixth Street during Mardi Gras 1997 with a huge wagon full of beads. Every cop I saw asked, 'Are you selling those?'" remembers Bob Uhler of his first Texas Mardi Gras. "I had over 1,500 pounds of beads and told them, 'No, I'm giving them away.' I'm sure they wondered about my sanity. And by the end of this interview, you will, too."

While on the road as an insurance claims adjuster, the Minnesota native enjoyed his first pre-Lent celebration in New Orleans in 1987 so much that he decided to take it wherever he went. "If I was in Minnesota or Kansas or Florida during carnival season, I'd order beads and hand them out.

"Beads are power," Uhler asserts. "It really is the currency of Mardi Gras – on both sides of the equation. Whether you want to spank some little college-aged boy's bottom," he turns to wife Katie and grins (she rolls her eyes), "or you want to be the one who gets spanked."

Twenty years after his first Mardi Gras, Uhler founded Austin's Krewe of Utopia. Their ball has become an annual tradition, now held at Maggie Mae's. "The club loves it because we're the only place in town that throws free beads." And this year, they aim to toss more than 200,000 strands. "I don't think our smallest bead is what they hand out in most places. Then again, I am a little competitive," he beams.

"I want to grow this beyond our krewe. I envision other krewes taking over other places like we did with Maggie Mae's and invigorating the economy, making Downtown a huge Mardi Gras destination. Just think of the money involved in that. There's the events, the catering, the tuxes, the costumes, and of course, the beads."

Sounds pretty sane to us.

The Krewe of Utopia's annual masked tableau ball, featuring Dr. Zog, will be held at Maggie Mae's, Sat., Feb. 13, $200 per person (includes buffets and more than $100 worth of beads and throws).,

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Krewe of Utopia, Mardi Gras, Sixth Street, beads, Maggie Mae's, Dr. Zog

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