First of all, I don’t cover the West Bank or Metairie parades. I stick to uptown & downtown New Orleans.

It’s been a very competitive year in the world of Carnival New Orleans. Lots of excellent and some unexpected throws, even old school Proteus threw a cool Light Up necklace! Plush animals, monsters, swords, etc. were prevalent as were Light Up beads & medallions. The medallions come in every conceivable size & variety. Rex & Proteus medallions are long beads with small krewe insignias interspersed.

Many beautiful floats by numerous krewes in several different styles, old line traditional to super krewe.  Many krewes had strong bands from all over the metro area and some krewes had many bands from out of town. One parade had 6 Memphis bands! There were parade day & time changes, including 2 cancellations, due to inclement weather and the Super Bowl.

Last year’s top ranking went to Muses, and the top throw went to D’Etat.  We’re adding Krewe du Vieux into the rankings with an asterisk since they roll outside the standard parade season. During the parade season, the Saints Super Bowl Parade rolled, so they get into the rankings also this season. However the Saints parade earns an asterisk, because it only occurs when the Saints advance to a ‘certain’ level.

Where are the majority of all these fabulous krewe throws manufactured? China. A few glass beads might come from India. That means they have to be ordered months in advance as a rule to allow time for possible changes and corrections.  There are rush orders all the time as Mardi Gras approaches.  Most orders have enough time to come by boat. It is hard to keep track of the best throws,  as some are thrown by a single large float or walking group. For example, Bacchus has several floats with their own throw. Good luck catching or even seeing a single float throw.  I’m switching from Throw of the Year to Float of the Year because of this factor.

1.  Saints Super Bowl Victory Parade*- Turnout  for this parade was huge, the most the route could handle. A truly SUPER parade by most accounts. Thousands & thousands of Saints fans got stuck in gigantic traffic jams trying to get to the parade. The floats were a collection of the top floats of all the top krewes; the bands were the best bands in the area; the float riders were the World Champion New Orleans Saints, fresh from their Super Bowl victory and the Saints organization. The throws were very  special because of who was throwing them. Media coverage for this parade promoted the Who Dat Nation to the entire world- CNN & ESPN,  as well as all local network stations carried the parade live with top commentary. This parade is rated #1 partially because of the positive effect it had on the City of New Orleans reputation, as well as the actual parade. The Saints first Super Bowl win was the highest rated TV program in the history of US ratings. That’s the ultimate free PR! All the media with rights to the game had endless hours to fill, including a lot of  ‘filler’ about New Orleans and the Who Dat Nation. Same with the cable giants who showed the parade live with great commentary.

More than 250 Saints players, coaches and staff members threw beads, footballs, etc. from a dozen of the area’s cream of the cream Mardi Gras floats. “I think that was the only time you’ll ever see all these floats together at one time, and very well could be the last time you ever see all these floats together,” said Barry Kern, president of Blaine Kern Studios, which oversaw the event. Included will be the signature floats of Endymion, Bacchus, Rex, Zulu, Alla, Caesar, Tucks, Muses, Orpheus and Babylon, he said.

The parade featured dozens of local marching bands and theYingYangTwins performing their Super Dome Saints Anthem, here’s a youtube link to Halftime (Stand Up & Get Crunk).

Barry Kern says we may never see all these floats together again, just wait until the next Saints or Hornets League Championship game. These floats and riders are the standard for Super Super Parades, a new class of NOLA parade.

Saints Super Bowl Parade AP

2. Proteus- Built by Royal Artists, and lit by historic flambeaux, Proteus was the best looking old line traditional parade. They looked beautiful as evidenced by the 2 float pictures below. The fish & water concept is beautifully carried out from stem to stern. The float featured roiling water waves and one heck of a fish paint job!  Leave a comment if you have a picture of a better looking float, I may amend my ratings. This Proteus Fish float is deemed FLOAT OF THE YEAR, because it’s the best float I saw all season.

The float is in the set up area, the parade hasn’t begun yet. A wooden wagon wheel is visible in the lower right hand corner of the picture. Proteus entered the 21 Century of throws with their Light Up Sea Horse necklace with triple red lights. This is a big addition for an old line krewe like Proteus, as Light Up necklaces and other Light Up Throws are currently the rage. Proteus doesn’t usually bend, nor does Rex, to the latest throw craze. The lights work best with evening parades limiting the market for them.

They had roughly a dozen bands led by the US Marine Corps Band. Proteus keeps their masks on, and their identities secret. They use the oldest, original flambeaux and the old wagon wooden chassis for their floats.

Proteus is the only night time krewe left from the 19th century. The other two parading krewes from the 19th century, Comus and Momus, stopped after the New Orleans City Council interfered with their operations in the early 1990s. Proteus stopped also, but started parading again in 2000. Comus still holds their ball Fat Tuesday evening, their meeting with Rex’s Court at Midnight is broadcast live by WYES TV in New Orleans.

2010 Proteus Fish Float

2010 Proteus Fish Float Closeup

3. Tie, Endymion & Muses- Endymion has  plenty of super floats, such as Captain Eddie’s S.S. Endymion, a five tandem float depicting a 150 foot steamboat and carries a live band plus 200 riders; Papa Joe’s S.S. Endymion is a replica of a Mississippi River steamboat and 56 feet long; Creature Feature is 120 feet long and carries the sub krewe “Krewe of Yats” with its own set of doubloons and other throws. The Budweiser Clydesdale Horses and The St. Augustine Purple Knights were featured in the parade, along with more than two dozen other Marching Bands.  They have the most “Super Floats”- 25 spectacular Super-Tandem Floats let by celebrity Grand Marshal Tom Benson, wife Gayle, granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc, they had Saints players also. The whole idea with Endymion is huge size is better, and in their case, it’s true. The floats aren’t rolling works of art like some of Royal Artists’ work, they are painted with a much broader brush. They have 39 total floats, making them the longest Mardi Gras parade, I believe.

Muses- I think the world of Muses throws, they have many unique throws. Their decorated shoe is beginning to rival the Zulu coconut as the most coveted throw in Mardi Gras. Some of their throws can pass for costume jewelry. They have many original marching groups- the Flying Elvi, Pussyfooters, 610 Stompers, Camel Toe Lady Steppers, and Muff-a- Lottas all marched with Muses.  Muses lost some of their bands in 2010 because of rescheduling due to inclement weather. Muses has several signature floats, including The Shoe, The Sirens, and The Bathtub.

Muses Bathtub Float

Muses is a satirical krewe, making fun of all the corruption around us, and much more. They used the new type of flambeaux utilizing gas. Muses women keep their masks on while riding. Instead of Saints players or Saints owners, Muses is hosting the wives of Saints players on their own float.

4. Tie, Bacchus & Krewe du Vieux*- KdV is a very unique adult parade- they parade in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny. 17 mules pull their floats, and it is completely comprised of sub krewes, like the one I’m in, Krewe of Underwear. KdV is much raunchier in their parody. One problem with KdV is all sub krewes pick their float theme independently based on the central krewe theme. This sounds like a good thing, but in practice, almost half the 17 floats condemned New Orleans outgoing Mayor Ray C. Nagin. That’s satirical overkill. Our float had Ray Nagin Edwin Edwards, Bill Jefferson, etc. burning in hell.

2010 Krewe of Underwear float, KdV

KVD floats are constructed as professionally as any floats out there. No professional float builders, just experienced float builders who have been building their own float by hand and executing their krewe’s ideas for years.  Annual float building for a KdV krewe is the back door to an education in float building. KdV throws a lot of unique, one of kind, hand made throws. 1 member had a bunch of pocket size wooden matchstick boxes decorated with purple, green and gold beads, including a tiny gold crown as centerpiece on each box.

Detail of Dr. John's Float, 2010 KdV

They have brass marching bands exclusively, and they have 18 of them. My krewe had the terrific Panorama Jazz Band featuring Ben Schenk marching behind our float- a perfect parade accompaniment. KdV has a lot of novel throws that some sub krewes hand make, or order a small lot of 500 or 1,000 units. In total number, I would estimate that KdV has a couple of dozen unique, limited edition throws scattered throughout the sub krewes.

KdV mission statement

Bacchus- Bacchus is the original Super Krewe- they were the first krewe to have Celebrity Kings (Danny Kaye was the first in 1967), and the first to ‘Super Size’ their floats. The Celebrity King angle brought a new level of publicity to Carnival as a whole, because the entertainment media picked up the Danny Kaye story.  Floats used to hold no more than 20 or so riders. Some Super Floats today with 5 or so sections might hold 20o riders!  2010 saw Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees of the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints as King. Brees is hotter than a pistol since the Saints won the Super Bowl and he became MVP of the game.  Bacchus first Super Float in 1972 was Bacchasaurus; they rolled Super Floats in the French Quarter before parades were banned. They looked great rolling down St. Charles Avenue to a large, enthusiastic crowd that been out there for 6 or 8 hours, enjoying a whole bunch of parades that preceded Bacchus Sunday.

Their icon Super Floats include Baccha-Amore, Bacchatality, Bacchawoppa,  King King & Family, & the Bacchagator. They annually have great attractions like the Budweiser Clydesdale Horses and great bands like Southern University, St. Augustine’s Marching Band, US Marine Corps Band, and McDonough 35. Bacchus is the biggest parade rolling down St. Charles Avenue and as usual, they provided the biggest show. Bacchus’ influence on Mardi Gras parades has been large- all Super Krewes came from Bacchus. The only other parade that goes down St. Charles that rivals Bacchus in size is Orpheus, another Super Krewe co-founded by musician/singer Harry Connick, Jr.

Bacchus’ big size may have influenced the 1973 New Orleans City Council decision to ban Mardi Gras parades from the French Quarter. The new larger floats might block emergency vehicles from reaching all corners of the Quarter. This was a good thing, Mardi Gras parades had outgrown the narrow French Quarter streets, and for the public safety a shift to wider streets outside the Quarter was due. The very first parade I saw in New Orleans came by my house on Rampart Street by the Quarter in 1975, it was quite an experience.

Now for the down side of Bacchus. This year I witnessed and received many reports of riders smoking on floats (dangerous and illegal), of unmasked riders (against krewe policy and the spirit of MG), and of members encouraging flashing (illegal and gross), especially around small children.

I’ve also heard reports that some senior Bacchus members are not happy with this behavior and will attempt to change it before next Carnival Season. This is very encouraging.

5.  Rex- There is only one King of Carnival, one Monarch of Merriment, and that’s Rex. Their colors are purple (justice), Green (faith) and Gold (power). These colors are said to have been chosen by the Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovitch Romanoff of Russia during a visit to New Orleans in 1872. This theory was given credence in 1892, when the Rex parade theme “Symbolism of Colors” gave the colors their meanings. Rex is a paradox- a Super Krewe that rolls on 19th Centuy wooden wagon wheels.  This is ‘Official Mardi Gras’ at its most surreal.

Rex has key Mardi Gras Super icon Floats- the Jester, Boeuf Gras (fatted ox), an ancient symbol of the great feast the day before Lent, The Streetcar Named Desire, and His Majesty’s Royal Calliope. These key Super floats also roll on wooden wagon chassis with wooden wagon wheels. These wheels are now repaired in Texas since the local wooden wheel smith, Earl moved on.

19th Century Wooden Wagon Wheel

They threw high quality plush Riding Lieutenant dolls in 3 colors, a plush Boeuf Gras, and a plush crown. The Lieutenant dolls are way more complex than the Boeuf Gras or Crown, since they represent people, not animals or objects.  The cups they threw are degradable, meaning Rex gets some green points here. What the cup degrades into is the big question as to how many points they get. Rex krewe members wear their masks and behave in a civil manner while riding and representing the krewe. I’m pretty sure there were large & small sizes for the enlarged plush line.

Rex Jester Float

Rex Boeuf Gras Float

6. Zulu- Zulu is an icon parade with icon floats and an historic, original icon throw. They have great bands, and are more democratic as a krewe than most krewes. The membership votes for the key positions in   Their hand decorated coconut was alone for decades as the most sought after throw in all of Carnival- its cache is only growing. Their Witch Doctor, Big Shot, and Governor floats are almost as much a part of Mardi Gras parade history as the Boeuf Gras.  New Orleans Saints receivers Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, along with retired running back Deuce McAllister, rode in Zulu this year.  Zulu has great bands, including the US Marine Marching Band, St. Augustine Marching Knights,  Edna Carr, and Sarah Reed.

Very notable this year, Zulu started on time for first time in decades! There may be a reason for this startling shift in start times.  Zulu parade’s tail end and the beginning of Rex meet up at the corner of St. Charles and Jackson Avenues. As Zulu was an historically late starter, Rex might be stuck waiting for Zulu to pass before continuing their way down St. Charles. Over the years, Zulu must have heard some complaints about being late and holding Rex up, and they may have tired of this.  Zulu is a big parade with a lot of floats and roughly a dozen marching groups, like the Zulu Tramps. An assist goes to WDSU’s Parade Tracker Service, which texts parade updates when you opt in to their free service.  They texted me when the parade began.

The Supreme Lame Duck, the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray C. Nagin, is a member of Zulu. He led the parade on horseback along with a detachment of NOPD mounted police. He’s done this for at least several years. Who wants to see this lousy soon to be ex-mayor at the start of the Mardi Gras Day? Nothing against Zulu for having him in their krewe.

Lame Duck New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin

Start of Zulu Parade

Zulu has an amazing pot luck ball- everyone brings their favorite dish and the eating is delicious. Most other Mardi Gras balls are catered, and the food varies considerably.

Zulu was honored by the Louisiana Lottery Corporation in 2010. There was a Zulu Scratch Off Game featuring the Witch Doctor, King, and Big Shot characters. You could win up to $10,000 playing. I bought 1 and won nothing.

Zulu had the first celebrity King more than 25 years before Bacchus got started. In 1949, Louis Armstrong, a notable New Orleans native, came back to town to be anointed king of Zulu. He wore black face and a grass skirt and tossed coconuts, one of which, he later recalled, left a new Cadillac with a sizable new dimple. While Zulu was first with a celebrity King, it has not been their tradition to have celebrity Kings. Bacchus has had a celebrity King every year since they started in 1967 with Danny Kaye.