It was fabulous, darling, just fabulous. That’s how I would sum up the 2017 season. It was a warm Carnival , always preferable to a cold or wet one. When Fat Tuesday falls in late February, like it did this year, warm weather is practically expected. I’ve always loved Carnival since coming to New Orleans, it has always been my favorite holiday. I alway costume on Fat Tuesday in the colors of Carnival; purple, green, and gold. It’s a good look for me. Zulu always responds to a good costume; REX doesn’t if the costume mimics their look, which I do. I still do well at Rex, as I’m an enthusiastic parade goer and I’ve always reported positively and honestly about Rex on this blog, so karma is with me during their parade.
I’m in one of the earliest parades, KdV, Krewe du Vieux. It’s the parade most like parades from 100 years ago, which is why I take part. Participating in a parade remains one of the greatest experiences a New Orleanian can experience, and shouldn’t be missed. Every time a parade participant meets the eyes of a parade goer asking for a throw, a tiny piece of energy is transferred from parade watcher to parade participant. Over the course of an entire parade, the energy addition for the parade participant is slight but palpable. This boost lasts a day or two.
Handing out throws is the most elegant and fun micro moment repeated throughout the parade. The sheer joy of connecting with a parade goer is really big. Again, when, the parade is over, a parade participant feels the joy of mass giving on a repetitive level over a couple of hours. It’s a very happy effect.
Food wise, Carnival 2017 was a success. We finished up at Theo’s Pizza, who make a mean pie. It was delicious, and the wait wasn’t that long for Fat Tuesday. For the final 5 days of Carnival, I cooked macaroni and beef and made my wonderful sausage and chicken gumbo. That carried us through the main Carnival weekend with great style and elan. We ate our share of King Cakes and found Gracious King Cakes from the bakery to be stellar but when bought from Whole Foods, had aged considerably and the filling dried up.
Company was stellar. Over Carnival, alcohol flows freely, making parades in general more fun. I was with my girlfriend Sue and my good friend Billy and his friends. We drank every few days and good times ensued with or without booze. We all love the parades, with their bright lights, animals, freshness, music, spectacle, beauty and excitement.
I followed my usual plan, catching Zulu and Rex before hitting the French Quarter. Zulu didn’t disappoint. I saw Mayor Landrieu on horseback with his official posse. He looked happy, riding his horse in unison with other dignitaries and NOPD. I caught them at Jackson and Dryades, a traditional spot for me. Bought a drink at a local bar right before the parade and over the next hour I caught 5 coconuts. It was wild and a lot of fun. Zulu looked fierce in the brilliant sunlight. I missed my friend but really had a good time at Zulu 2017.
It was on to Rex around 9:30 by foot, and it takes about 20 minutes to walk to Harmony Street. The sights and sounds around me were intensifying as the day wore on. All the revelers on St. Charles, the crowds parked for Rex and the trucks to follow, it was a sight to behold. There really isn’t anything remotely similar to St. Charles Avenue on Mardi Gras Day. It’s a one of a kind event on a one of kind day.
The crowd around Zulu on Jackson, for Rex on St. Charles and Harmony, and walking toward home in Mid City was cordial and hospitable. New Orleanians celebrate Mardi Gras in their own ways. Some on the parade route, some in the street, some at home with friends and family. I passed many families in the neighborhood around Zulu and Rex BBQing
I was out on Jackson Avenue by 7:30 am on Fat Tuesday. I walked from Claiborne where I was dropped off to Dryades, where I was supposed to meet a friend who didn’t make it because he drank too much on Lundi Gras. Zulu was on time around 8 am and reached me by 8:30 on Jackson and Daneel. I had 5 coconuts by 9 am, and was walking to Rex at Harmony and St. Charles at 9:30. My good friend Billy Bonsack lives a block off St. Charles on Prytania and Harmony. I see a lot of parades during the season since Billy’s house is a block off the St. Charles route. Super convenient and makes parading a lot more comfortable.
It was a really warm Carnival season, and Mardi Gras day didn’t fail us. It was 70+ degrees when I hit the streets yesterday, and it only got warmer. I was dressed in a warm weather version of my purple, green and gold outfit, but I was still warm throughout the day.
Even though my basic Fat Tuesday routine doesn’t change much, there are always new wrinkles and fresh sights and sounds that can’t be missed. I started the season marching in the Krewe du Vieux’s Krewe of Underwear, marching through the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny. This year’s march was especially fun. I recommend getting involved in parading for Carnival if you never have. It’s an experience you don’t want to miss.
I wear a purple, green and gold outfit, and Zulu always responds to people who have nice costumes. I don’t get any coconuts from the first few floats but after a while, I do real well. They respond very well to my purple, green and gold costume, and especially my very fancy headdress, worn for the first time this year. I had to expand or my girlfriend Sue did, the headdress, which originally was a little too small. Here I am on Jackson Avenue waiting for Zulu. Zulu is one of the great parades. It’s very unique from beginning to end, and features a most unusual throw, the Zulu Coconut.
I’ll be adding photos of my 5 coconuts later today when I pick them up from my friend’s house on Prytania. I’ve got several bags of throws, garnered over the entire parade season.
Beautifully Costumed Mardi Gras Indian
As I was walking from Zulu to Rex, I passed this gang of unbelievably colorful and decorative Mardi Gras Indians. The beauty and majesty of their single colored feather outfits is a marvel to behold. My good friend June Victory of June Victory and the Bayou Renegades helped me find them. They remain among the most beautiful sights on a Mardi Gras Day.
Mardi Gras Indians on a Mardi Gras Day
After REX I started heading home with another friend, Slogan. He walked with me through Central City and saw the Indian gang. He was very impressed, as I was. We finally split up after a couple of miles of walking, and eventually Sue picked me up at Galvez and Canal after hitting a lot of traffic on Broad due to the Zulu floats heading to the Zulu buildings on Broad.
For the last few years, my Fat Tuesday routine has changed a bit. Now I go out to eat in the late afternoon. Last year it was Mandina’s. This year is was pizza and beer (for girlfriend Sue) at Theo’s on North Carrollton.
Mardi Gras 2016 was fantastic, it was exciting, it was downright thrilling at times. Of course, I’m a Mardi Gras freak. It was a very short season, ending on February 9. Next year, Fat Tuesday is more than 2 1/2 weeks later.
I want to thank my sweet girlfriend Sue and my good friend Billy, both Mardi Gras freaks without whom the entire season wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. Billy lives a block from St. Charles Avenue so his house was parade central and I went to virtually all my parades with Sue.
The season began for me with my own Krewe du Vieux, which rolled January 23. It was a terrific parade and the ball was fantastic, with none other than Texas guitar legend and ZZ Top front man Billy Gibbons on guitar and vocals along with Walter Wolfman Washington and George Porter, Jr. The ball was held in the Civic and it’s a pretty nice party forum compared to some of the more sorry auditoriums KdV has used in their recent past.
I caught a couple of newish throws, the Thoth Fedora and the NYX Earbuds.
When Fat Tuesday was only a couple of hours past sunrise, I was on Jackson Avenue below Dryades for Zulu. I was wearing my purple, green and gold silk scarf, my purple reversible satin cape from amazingcapes.com, my gold half mask, and my newly acquired Mardi Gras furry leggings. I bought the leggings Fat Tuesday morning on the Zulu parade route from a shopping cart vendor.
Bands play a big role in parades, the best bands generally are from local high school and surrounding colleges. Out of town bands perform in many parades toward the end of each season, as local high schools are limited to seven parades per season. Bands have been part of Mardi Gras processions and parades since the very beginning. Bands cost the krewes a lot more money post Katrina. Before the storm, parade band fees ran $1,000-$1,500 per parade. After Katrina, the bands ask for and get $3,500 or more. Bands are in demand for more than one reason. They add the beat and the funk, essential elements of parades. The New Orleans City Council has mandated that all Orleans parish parades have 7 bands. My own Krewe du Vieux has around 20 brass bands participate in the parade.
Year after year, the best high school band is the St. Augustine Marching 100, and the best college band is the Southern University Jaguar Band. Other notable bands in 2016 include the Landry Walker High School Band and the Texas Southern Ocean of Soul.
Some of the best looking floats all year were in the Proteus parade. Royal Artists create this parade, and it’s the best work they do by far.
I ended up in the French Quarter at Molly’s at the Market on Decatur around noon Fat Tuesday, to meet the Perv Patrol, my girlfriend’s Sue’s themed costume group. It was the first time in decades I missed REX which was my choice after deciding to see all of ZULU for the first time in as long. ZULU had a long break near the beginning that was over 30 minutes long and set the parade back big time. We ran into the Krewe of Cosmic Debris which had come down Decatur Street just as I arrived. Molly’s is one of their stops so I had a really hard time getting a drink when the krewe invaded the bar. I went down the street to an adjacent bar and bought a double and returned to Molly’s.
I have been reading other lists of Mardi Gras parade rankings and not agreeing with the ratings. Granted, my opinions are as subjective as the next persons. I count factors like which krewes’ reputations are growing in the public eye.
Tie, 1 & 2- Krewe du Vieux and Muses. KdV is a very large grass roots affair that follows historic tradition seriously, allowing them to roll in the French Quarter and Marigny. Their floats are pulled by mules; they are smaller than regular parade floats. They throw buttons, wooden doubloons, and other original throws. They only hire local brass bands who play more than other marching bands and play far funkier music. KdV’s floats skewer the worst of New Orleans.
Muses also has many ideas of their own and the public adores them. Their reputation has come on like gangbusters over the last decade. They invented the first icon, all original throw that has caught the public’s imagination since the Zulu coconut, the decorated ladies shoe. Every year they come up with novel throws. They have cornered the market and raised the bar substantially on dancing groups such as Rolling Elvi, Glambeaux, 610 Stompers. Pussyfooters, etc. They are a large organization like KdV who take their parade and their party very seriously. Muses has opened the door for women who want to be part of a modern, cool, and fun parading krewe experience.
3. REX There is only one REX, King of Carnival. It’s true. Founded in 1872, they are responsible for purple, green and gold being the official colors of Mardi Gras. They roll in very old wooden wagon chassis with wooden wheels from the 1800s. REX marches at 10 am Fat Tuesday, and the bright light that time of day illuminates the floats’ gold foil so beautifully.
On Mardi Gras Day, REX is truly King of New Orleans, as the mayor hands over the keys to the city to the reigning monarch.
Their signature floats- the King’s Jester, Boeuf Gras (Fatted Cow), Streetcar Named Desire and His Majesty’s Royal Calliope are well known throughout the land. REX had one of the first charity aspects to their krewe and it remains strong in the new millennium.
Gods of All the Ages is this year’s REX theme, the topic reflects gods and goddesses from antiquity. REX works hard at developing an original theme and displaying it brilliantly on its floats.
4. Proteus- The bands aren’t that great, and the riders are haughty, but the floats are so damned gorgeous and the traditional flambeaux kick butt all season. Now that Momus and Comus are no more, the only night time parade from the 1800s is Proteus. The float riders always keep their masks on and wear beautiful costumes.
Proteus, like REX, utilize wooden wagon chassis and wooden wheels. This limits the size of the floats since the smaller wooden chassis cannot support larger float structures.
There are no better floats in all of Carnival. This 2010 Proteus float is my favorite float out of so many other favorites.
5. Zulu- Zulu is a one of a kind parade, as all of my top 5 parades are. Zulu has the original icon Mardi Gras parade throw- the Zulu coconut! There is nothing like it anywhere else in Carnival. Zulu has great bands, great throws, and they are the only major parade except for Endymion that doesn’t march down St. Charles Avenue.
Zulu has unique officers, such as their Witch Doctor, Big Shot, Ambassador, Mr. Big Stuff, Mayor, Governor, and Province Prince.
6. Bacchus- The original super krewe, with a lot of signature floats the public loves such as the Bacchagator, Bacchasaurus, and Baccha-Whoppa. Their King Kong, Mama Kong and Baby Kong floats are perennial favorites.
Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, has been portrayed by celebrities including Raymond Burr, Bob Hope, Dom DeLuise, Charlton Heston, William Shatner and Kirk Douglas, and Dick Clark. Bacchus was the first parade to feature a Hollywood celebrity as ruler.
In 2014, the Krewe of Bacchus will be lead by celebrity ruler Hugh Laurie of the television show House.
7. Le Krewe d’Etat- d’Etat has style, earning this relatively high ranking. All floats are original, they call their king The Dictator, and they have manufactured their own style of flambeaux which work and keep their carriers safe.
The Dictator’s “court” includes the Kingfish, the Special Man, the Minister of Misinformation, the Keeper of the Bones and the High Priest. d’Etat’s motto is Vivite ut Vehatis. Vehite ut Vevatis, which roughly translates to Live to Ride, Ride to Live.
The Krewe decides a new theme for their parade annually (raison d’etre), and it, just like The Dictator’s identity, remains confidential. Like many other parades, d’Etat’s floats are highly satirical.
8. Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus- This description is from Wikipedia. The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus is made up of over 500 dues-paying members who call themselves BacchanALIENs. The group was founded by self-styled publicity stuntman and conceptual artist Ryan S Ballard and curator/events director Kirah Haubrich in the fall of 2010. They were soon joined by local attorney Brett Powers and together they comprise the three Overlords of the Krewe. Their signature parade contraption and mascot is a 7-foot tall Bar2D2 that dispenses alcoholic beverages pulled by a XXX-Wing tricycle.
Throws are homemade and include bean bags, custom beads, flying discs, stuffed animals and decorated bandoliers. New for 2014- 100 rolling Elliots on bicycles in red hoodies with E.T.s in their bike baskets. Chewbacchus is the first truly science fiction Mardi Gras parade.
9. Chaos- Momus and Comus stopped parading, and a few years later, Chaos appears. There is a strong connection. Apparently the younger members of the two krewes weren’t OK with the decision to stop parading, so they formed Chaos. The floats are satirical, like d’Etat, Tucks and like Momus used to be.
The floats are old fashioned and smaller than the usual floats and super floats. Like Proteus, they use the old wooden wagon chassis and wooden wheels, and they employ the historic flambeaux, a beautiful sight.
10. Tucks- Any krewe that throws plungers, rolls of toilet paper and little plastic toilets that pee water is going to make my top 10 parade list. The Orleans Parish City Council this year gave some discussion to banning the toilet paper. The public outcry ended that crazy thought. Tucks has a really meaningful logo. No Latin for them, how about Booze, Beer, Bourbon, Broads? Tucks has an a very irreverent attitude!
Back in the day, I used to have my own float in Tucks. I’d pay the krewe a cash payment, and they would let me bring my decorated stake bed truck into the parade. That doesn’t happen anymore, parades regulations are very strict about extra vehicles entering the parade.
Tuck’s Toilet Bowl Float is one of a kind.
Orleans Parish Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, District B is leading this effort to tighten up some Carnival rules. Some make sense like ending parking on the opposite side of St Charles during parades. I didn’t see the toilet paper ban coming by any means, I thought the City Council was busy with the city’s business and the upcoming election. Wrong!
The Krewe of Tucks has already spent tens of thousands of dollars printing this year’s toilet tissue, and is shocked the ban is still part of the proposed ordinance.
The throw is made in America, unlike beads which are extruded in China in gulag type factories. Toilet paper disappears during the first hard rain, unlike beads which last for years. But as fast as this the toilet paper ban was presented by Cantrell it was withdrawn by Cantrell as the ruckus over this harebrained idea grew.
Tucks is known for several throws but their icon throw is their toilet paper roll. Each sheet has the Tucks logo printed on it. It’s not exactly on a par with the Zulu coconut, but it’s pretty high up there on the short list of icon throws along with Muses’ decorated shoe.
I spoke to some Uptown New Orleanians who don’t like St. Charles Avenue after Carnival with all the toilet paper on the majestic oak trees. Personally, I find the temporary effect surreal.