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Anything goes at Clay Center's Carnaval benefit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Her first visit to the soulful and mysterious city of New Orleans three years ago prompted Rachel Coffman to purchase an elaborate teal and purple feathered mask to mark the occasion.

When she returned to Charleston, she found the perfect place to wear it -- a Carnaval celebration at the Clay Center.

"It was completely different from any other event in Charleston. It was like something you'd see in a big city," Coffman said of the annual fundraising masquerade hosted by the Friends of the Clay Center that benefits the Clay Center and The Charleston Ballet.

She enjoyed the event so much, she joined the Friends of the Clay Center and helped plan the party the following year and this year. Carnaval is celebrated throughout the world, so each year the Clay Center event focuses on a different locale. The first year's theme was Venetian; the second featured the traditions and culture of Brazil's celebration.

Because New Orleans sparked her initial interest in Carnaval, Coffman is especially excited about "Voodoo on the Bayou," the French Quarter and Bourbon Street theme of this year's Carnaval, which takes place Jan. 19. She'll wear the same mask, but a different dress to match it, as she has every year.

"The first two were teal. This one is too," she said. "I enjoy the mask aspect. Lots of people get into that, but you don't have to dress in costume. We like to say, 'Anything goes.'"

Coffman is also looking forward to the authentic, soulful entertainment featuring New Orleans' own Rebirth Brass Band, a Grammy Award-winning band that honors the tradition of brass band music played in the band's signature modern style. Jazz, gospel, funk and R&B music will flow from the keyboard played by "the prince of New Orleans piano," Davell Crawford.

"And the menu will be great. You can't go wrong with Cajun and Creole food," she said of the authentic Louisiana cuisine that a team from Charleston Embassy Suites will prepare under the direction of executive chef Mark Schnurrpusch.

Cajun and Creole tidbits such as chicken, Andouille sausage and alligator gumbo, shrimp étouffée, jambalaya skewers, Natchitoches meat pies, spoonbread and Cajun meatballs headline the menu.

Coffman, an account executive with TSG Consulting in Charleston, helped plan event logistics and also procured items for the silent auction and event. An online auction conducted through BiddingForGood.com remains open through Saturday. Bids may be placed through the website or by a mobile phone.

The online, rather than live, auction provides an opportunity for people to support the Clay Center and the Charleston Ballet even if they do not attend the event.

But attending and dressing the part are more fun.

"We just encourage everyone to reach out to their imaginations, and whatever Mardi Gras means to them, just do it," Coffman said.

Tickets are $200 per person. Guests must be at least 21 years of age. Masks and costumes are encouraged for the black-tie-optional event. Visit www.theclaycenter.org or call 304-561-3521.

Voodoo on the Bayou

WHAT: New Orleans-style Carnaval

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19

WHERE: Clay Center

TICKETS: $175 per person, $200 at the door

INFO: 304-561-3521 or www.theclaycenter.org

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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