Known across Texas as Mardi Gras Upriver, Jefferson's annual Mardi Gras festivities bring visitors from all over the country. The traditional Mardi Gras party in Jefferson goes back to the days when steamships used to ply the rivers and bayous between Jefferson and New Orleans, bringing with them the traditions of the Big Easy.
Just like in New Orleans to the south, parades are the main attractions at Mardi Gras Upriver in Jefferson. The Doo-Dah parade begins on the Friday night before Fat Tuesday and is led by the king of Mardi Gras, who officially announces the beginning of Mardi Gras festivities. The Grand parade takes place on Saturday afternoon and features the massive floats by local krewes, or social organizations, who throw beads and treats to spectators. A children's parade is held on Sunday, which features a local youth organization like the Boys and Girls Club.
Live rock, jazz and blues music is performed at the large outdoor stage set up in the center of Jefferson's historic downtown. Music starts Friday night and continues all day Saturday and Sunday with a variety of local and visiting bands. On the Saturday night the week before the festival, the Queen Mab Ball, which requires separate paid admission, features a big name band at an indoor venue.
Food and craft booths are set up around the historic downtown on Saturday and Sunday and feature dozens of local artisans and food producers. A variety of children's festivities take place in downtown Jefferson on Sunday, including face painting booths, dog contests and animal rides.
A very small town of just over 2,000 people, Jefferson is always hard pressed to accommodate the nearly 25,000 attendees who flock here during Mardi Gras season. The town offers several historic bed and breakfasts, but reservations tend to fill up far in advance. Many revelers book rooms in Shreveport, Louisiana, which is 20 miles due east of Jefferson and offers a wider variety of accommodation options.