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21st annual Bal Masque raises funds for AIDS

Alexandra Ellsworth

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On Saturday evening, the Tuscaloosa community will don its boots and hats in attendance of Tuscaloosa’s 21st Bal Masque, or masked ball. The ball is part of a traditional Mardi Gras celebration and is put on every year by the Mystic Krewe of the Druids.

Krewe co-captains Robby Johnson and Ray Taylor chose “Big Boots, Big Buckles” as the theme for this year. Attendants are encouraged to dress in the theme. Taylor said he chose this year’s western theme because he wanted it to be a fun night.

“Last year, we had a very formal ball in honor of our 20th anniversary,” he said. “This year, I wanted to do something totally opposite from that and do something that would be more casual and just fun to start our third decade.”

The ball will be held at the Bama Theatre on Saturday beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40 for general admission and $60 for VIP tickets. VIP tickets include access to the Captain’s Party at 7 p.m. before the ball and the after-parties. Taylor said he is expecting another sold-out crowd of 750 people.

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The Bal Masque raises money for the West Alabama AIDs Outreach. Over the 21 years the Krewe has put on the ball, they have raised more than $350,000 for WAAO. This partnership between the Krewe and WAAO began at the Krewe’s inception.

“We wanted to start something in Tuscaloosa for Mardi Gras,” Taylor said. “This was 1991 when we were first starting to see the effects of AIDS. We decided we needed to do something about it and formed the Quilting Bee.”

Billy Kirkpatrick, executive director of WAAO, said the Krewe has had a tremendous impact on WAAO.

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“We are incredibly blessed to have community members who spend so much time and money to hold a benefit on our behalf,” Kirkpatrick said. “They have raised an enormous amount of money in the past 20 years, and that money has been essential for us to continue providing the services we do.”

Kirkpatrick said the money is used for client services and infrastructure costs at WAAO, where they serve 230 individuals living with HIV. Taylor said he hopes the day will come when they no longer need to raise money for AIDS.

Ultimately, he said he hopes to see it cured.

“I don’t want it to always be for the same cause,” he said. “I want our work to lead to curing AIDS, and then we can work on raising money for hospice or cancer.”

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Taylor said he is excited about the night and hopes the community enjoys it as well.

“It’s going to be a fun theme,” he said. “I want to thank the community for supporting us for all these years, and we are going to have a good night together this weekend.”

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21st annual Bal Masque raises funds for AIDS