Posts tagged St. Charles Avenue
The Knights of Babylon ran last night, a beautiful evening for Carnival 2017 parading. Babylon was originally called the Jesters Club. St. Charles was packed with parade goers, of all shapes, ages and sizes. We had moved our location from Harmony Street to St. Andrews St, Neutral ground side. Babylon’s theme for 2017 was The Lure and Legends of Gold. Babylon started in 1939, so they are among the top 5 oldest New Orleans krewes. That’s tradition. As they were rolling down St. Charles, I could tell they weren’t all old men, but a cross section of ages. Their floats are of traditional size.
Babylon had a bunch of light up throws, including a light up streetcar light up medallion, a purple bearded man light up bead, and a plastic fake wrist band that states on the plastic dial, Carnival Begins When Babylon Rolls.
Light Up Babylon Throws
All three parades occupy different niches in the Mardi Gras Orleans Parish Parade hierarchy. Babylon is from the old guard. Chaos is a combination of the new and the old, a unique niche, and Muses are the founders of the women’s super krewe niche that now has other players including NYX.
While Babylon is an old fashioned parade, Chaos is even more old fashioned. They ride on wooden wagon wheels, like REX and Proteus (see photo). That’s because Chaos membership is comprised of former Knights of Momus members. Comus and Momus stopped parading decades ago when the political climate for closed all white men’s clubs went south. The Chaos float den is the former Momus den. They threw float specific cards, doubloons, light up swords and other mostly traditional throws.
Muses is one of Carnival’s largest parades with well over 1,000 krewe members. They are named after the Muses in mythology. They have changed Mardi Gras for the good with their too many to mention sexy, ribalt dancing groups; they broke a Carnival glass ceiling as the first true all women Super Krewe; and their hand decorated Muses shoes have quickly become a key Mardi Gras signature throw.
Muses were founded in 2000 by Staci Rosenberg, and first paraded during Mardi Gras in 2001. Every year, Muses produces an awesome variety of logoed throws. The krewe is very limited in what else they can purchase outside the krewe and without the Muses logo.
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.
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.
I’ve written about the problems Carnival on the West Bank is having recently, when the Krewe of Choctaw left the West Bank after more than 75 years. After a test year parading down the historic St. Charles Avenue route, they are making the switch permanent.
Now, the mighty Krewe of Alla, after 80 years, is making the change also, leaving only three parades- Grela, NOMTOC, and Adonis. Alla claims financial concerns are forcing the change. It’s true Alla has lost a lot of members over the last few years, as they only have 175 right now. The Captain said a few months ago they would move the parade if they couldn’t attract 200 new members. In my estimation, they didn’t allow enough time to gain those members. Two or three months isn’t realistic. We are in the Mardi Gras ‘off season’, and even though behind the scenes many Mardi Gras businesses and krewes are in high gear planning for Mardi Gras 2014, the average carnival participant isn’t focusing on Mardi Gras this time of year. It’s unrealistic to ask for 200 new members on this basis. It seems to me that Alla planned to leave the West Bank all along.
Choctaw’s growth aspirations are much more realistic. They say they have 200 members, and hope to gain 50 new recruits. For this reason, I back Choctaw’s move far more than Alla’s. Obviously, the long, colorful and successful tradition of parades on the West Bank is in serious danger. When you only have three parades over the Carnival season, you don’t have a parade season, just a single parade every few days. This is a very sad development. The lure of the most famous parade route in the world, St. Charles Avenue, is very strong. In Orleans Parish, as police and sanitation costs rose substantially, neighborhood parades were told to abandon their historic routes in favor of St. Charles Avenue. Pontchartrain used to parade on Hayne Boulevard, by Lake Pontchartrain. Freret used to march down Freret St. Now, both go down St. Charles Avenue. As a matter of fact, all Orleans parades except for Endymion march down St. Charles.
There is one new positive development that might fix the West Bank parade situation, it’s the spanking new Huey P. Long Bridge! Seven long years in the making, the new bridge cost $1.2 billion, making it the one of the most expensive construction projects in the the state’s history. The infamously thin Depression-era bridge has always been a mental and physical barrier to connecting both sides of the Mississippi River. Politicians and West Bank supporters have felt for decades that a wider bridge would lead to an expansion of the western areas of the West Bank, as there are still big patches of undeveloped land across the bridge. We’ll have to see if Carnival on the West Bank grows as well.
Meg was my Mardi Gras soul mate, we went parading from the mid 70s for the next 35 years and really had a blast decade after decade. I was very fortunate that she was a kid magnet and we would take our kids and the neighborhood kids on Mardi Gras parade excursions night after night during the season. In the late 70s, we crashed the CAC’s Krewe of Clones.
Before there was KdV, there was its predecessor, Krewe of Clones. Clones grew directly out of the Contemporary Arts Center. The CAC ran the parade, and the parade staging area was the CAC parking lot on Camp Street. It was an arty, satirical parade from the start. I still have an original1984 Krewe of Clones T shirt with the theme Barbie & Ken go to the World’s Fair.
After watching the parade one year in front of the CAC, we noticed the CAC Parade Marshall was drinking heavily over the couple of hours it took the parade to leave the staging parking lot.
The next year, we hatched a plan to crash the parade with our own float, taking advantage of the Marshall’s inebriation. We decorated our VW van into an elephant float by dying some sheets gray, and constructing a paper mache trunk, ears, and tail.
The night of the parade, we drove our float into position next to the CAC. When the parade was almost out of the staging area, we took advantage of the loose formation conditions, and drove our float straight onto the route. The Parade Marshall waved us on. For the next few years, we morphed that old van into other animals, and continued to crash the parade until the Marshall ‘retired’.
For several years in the mid 1980s, we had our own float in the Tucks parade. We paid the Krewe $500 cash and rented a stake bed truck and built our our cheapo float and invited all our twenty or so out of town Carnival visitors and all the neighborhood children to participate in the parade down Napoleon Avenue and down historic St. Charles Avenue on a Saturday afternoon during Mardi Gras. See the photo immediately below. I drove most of the with some help, and Meg rode on the truck and in the cab with me. We had an amazing time!