RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Even the pouring rain couldn't put a damper on this country's famed carnival as tens of thousands of revelers took to the streets Saturday, dancing to the sound of samba drums on the second day of the annual celebration.
Samba rhythms rose above the sound of intermittent rain showers, and many people wielded umbrellas as they fell in behind the "blocos" — as the informal street carnival groups are known.
The Banda de Ipanema (search) attracted more than 10,000 people and snarled traffic in the city's famous beach district.
The band, which is a favorite of Rio's gay community, pounded out samba (search) songs with irreverent lyrics while transvestites struggled to stay upright in stiletto heels.
"The energy is incredible, everyone comes together rich and poor, that's what is so nice," said Chris O'Connell, a 23-year-old musician from New York who was visiting Rio (search) for carnival.
The party got started early.
Some 40,000 revelers had filled the city's main avenue by midmorning, many dressed in white with black spots in tribute to a traditional brass band known as the Black Ball Band.
The crowd turned out despite the threat of rain to celebrate the band — Cordao de Bola Preta in Portuguese — which has played at the world's most famous carnival since 1918. One of the last of its kind, the band prides itself on providing an accessible alternative to more formal carnival events.
The samba parade in the specially designed sambadrome stadium is the centerpiece of Rio's carnival celebrations, which began Friday and will run until the wee hours of Ash Wednesday. The high point comes Sunday and Monday nights when the city's 14 premiere samba groups mount parades that cost more than $1 million to produce.
The groups parade with thousands of elaborately costumed dancers, hundreds of drummers and a slew of elaborate floats. The spectacle is televised live across the nation.
But for many, carnival lost some of its spontaneity when the city moved the celebration into the specially designed sambadrome stadium in 1984. In recent years, such groups as Cordao de Bola Preta have been gaining popularity as carnival returns to the streets.
Some 770,000 tourists are expected in the city for the pre-Lenten bash with about 20 percent coming from abroad, according to the Rio de Janeiro tourist board.
To ensure safety, state authorities have deployed 30,000 police officers around the city — including 10,000 around the sambadrome stadium. Police also were occupying the shantytowns surrounding the stadium that are usually controlled by heavily armed drug gangs.