It was the Friday of the second big weekend of Carnival. I stuck to the routine, swimming and Envie in the morning, and then walked up Frenchmen home. I saw a flyer for the 101 Runners late night show at dba and put it on the menu of carnival delights. I ate leftover mofongo in the sunshine of the courtyard, appreciating the good weather.
I took my camera out to Bourbon Street in the afternoon for the Krewe of Cork parade and the Krewe of Ponchatrain pre-party. Bourbon Street was packed, and the nipple glitter girls were out in force. There was a party at the Four Seasons with a bunch of people throwing beads, and the Ponchatrain party was upstairs at Johnny White’s. I walked as far uptown as the Famous Door, where some of the Touro Street Irregulars were supposed to intercept the Krewe of Cork. Jill and Ellen were marching with the Krewe, but I missed all of them. I walked back to Johnnie White’s, photographing the people on the street. Jill the bartender opened the doors for me, and I shot the crowd through the door.
The Ponchatrain party was preceded by the Chalmette High School marching band, and then the Krewe royalty. Everyone was dressed formally, for Carnival anyway, like fancy dresses with neon colored wigs. They filed upstairs and distributed beads for a couple of hours, attracting a big crowd of bead seekers.
Cork paraded right down the street but the crowds made it hard to see all the costumes. A woman broke ranks to walk through the crowd and give me Krewe of Cork beads complete with corks and a medallion. A mule carriage pushed right through the crowd, with the mule maintaining its calm demeanor but looking for direction and reassurance. It would have been a tough tour to lead.
I downloaded some pictures and cooked some king salmon before heading out. Frenchmen Street was quiet, which I did not expect after the insanity on Bourbon Street in the afternoon, and the band that caught my eye at the Brasserie was breaking down their equipment as I walked up. I talked with the Hank was Here crowd for a few minutes, and then went to Buffa’s to chill out for a couple of hours before the 11 o’clock show at dba. I avoided going home, figuring the couch would trap me.
The 101 Runners have June Yamaguchi, one of the best guitar players in the city, Tom Worrell on the piano and organ, the bass player from the Neville Brothers band, and a four piece percussion section with two Neville cousins and a guy from Africa. There are two vocalists from the Wild Magnolias in full regalia. They played the Mardi Gras classics to a small crowd of mixed tourists and locals. The African drummer led a version of Oye Como Va in an African language that allowed June Yamaguchi to stretch out on the guitar. That was a real highlight. I’m glad I was out late, but it made for a slow morning.
Saturday was the day for an Uptown parade. I had a disappointing breakfast at Buffa’s (they ran out of biscuits and gravy) and then costumed in a King Tut headdress and a gold sequin jacket over black, with the only costuming guidance being “gold is the theme”. I Ubered across town, with the usual 15 minute trip taking 40 minutes and getting dropped off a half mile from the meet up spot. The Krewe du Fool was meeting right at the intersection of Napoleon and Tchoupatoulas, along with thirty or forty NOPD officers and every part of every parade that rolled that day.
This was my second Uptown parade experience, and I’ve noticed a pattern. You get lost, spend an half hour or so looking for your group amid horses, floats, dancing girls, marching bands, and all manner of costumed folks, find a bunch of people in roughly the same costume you are in who you don’t really know, mill about drinking for a couple of hours wondering who is in charge of this goat rope, stand in long lines for a bathroom or a beer, and then rush to join the parade when it is your turn. I’m glad that Claiborne had ushered us through the first one a couple of years ago or this might have been overwhelming.
The Krewe du Fool is a marching Krewe based in the Marigny whose main event is the only April Fools Day parade in the city. The Krewe was invited to join the Krewe of Freret music themed parade as a favor to the guest of honor of Freret, Dancingman504, the best known second line dancer in the city who is also the lead dancer for the April Fools parade this year.
The downtown walking krewes are much less formal and organized than the downtown krewes, with a fairly open membership roster(you don’t have to be one of the founding families of New Orleans or pay thousands to ride the big floats). They feature homemade costumes and throws, with some store bought beads and cups, and no specific dances or music. The krewe dresses to a theme, and walks together through the narrow streets of the Marigny, Bywater, and French Quarter accompanied by a band or two, and interacts with people on the street by dancing or handing out throws.
The Krewe du Fool had about two dozen people show up to march. The core group appears to be professional people in their 50s or so, but there was one woman in her 70s who brought a decorated wheelchair and pushed it about half the time and was pushed the other half, and another half a dozen people in their twenties who got to lead the energetic dancing. One guy was dressed as Austin Powers, there was a couple dressed in gold formal wear and monkey hats, a woman in a full length gold gown and gold body paint, me as King Tut with lots of gold glitter, and some assorted Mardi Gras costuming. People brought wagons to carry the throws and beer, and a banner identifying the Krewe.
The Uptown parades feature big marching bands, including the best High School and college bands in the country, big formal two deck parade floats, professionally designed and constructed, pulled by tractors and carrying 50 people each, each person throwing literally thousands of beads or other throws to the crowds lining the streets, military marching groups, hobby groups like horsemen or Jeep customizers, and dancing groups like the Muffalottas or Chorus Girls, all of whom are uniformed and performing a specific set of dance moves to loud recorded music, usually to good effect.
Today there were four of these parades, all following the same route down Napoleon to St. Charles, around Lee Circle, down Canal and into the CBD. We were in the third of the four parades, and got to watch the first two with thirty floats and ten or so marching bands and another dozen dance groups and assorted oddfellows like the Buffalo Soldier horse group. We were the only walking downtown Krewe in any parade all day, and the sight of a couple of dozen people in varied costumes just walking along was perplexing to some. By happenstance, we were slotted in behind the Krewe d’Ritmeaux, a latin dance group also dressed in black and gold, so we got to poach their salsa music to assist in the long march. We danced along for the approximate 8 mile route, wandering into the crowd to hand our throws to people who caught our eye. Most throws are literally thrown, often from the second deck of the big floats, causing a lot of breakage and pleasant chaos, and the smaller kids appreciated having the trinkets put right in their hand. One woman came out of the crowd to say that we were the best group all day because of our interaction with the spectators.
We disbanded near the Casino, and I found four big bags of unused and discarded beads which I picked up and will reuse. I bought and distributed three dozen, along with an equal amount from the Krewe stash over the course of the day, and went home with five dozen for next time. I look forward to joining the Krewe for future events.
I walked across the Quarter in costume, stopping for a break at the Chart Room and a solid bar food burger at Turtle Bay. Turtle Bay is not a gourmet place, but cheap comfort food with friendly staff. The farther I got from the parade route, the more conversations were sparked by the costume, but it was all in a Mardi Gras day.
Sunday was Barkus, the dog parade. It seemed that every dog in the city came out to either parade or spectate at this walking parade through the Quarter. I continue to be impressed by the socialization of the city dogs. They did not seem to flustered by the crowds, people touching them, or, for the most part, other dogs. It is definitely an area of dog training I can improve on. There were a number of brass bands mixed in with the costumed dogs, and a couple of the dancing groups including one of my favorites, the Organ Grinders.
There was a little cognitive dissonance for all parties as the family friendly kid and dog parade crossed Bourbon Street with the nipple glitter girls wearing not a lot of clothing on the street and the hard partiers not understanding why the dogs are dressed up as Star Wars characters. It is an almost psychedelic experience without the need for the chemical assist.
I spent most of this one photographing the people and dogs from the Original Johnny White’s on St. Peter. I saw one perfect border collie along with the more usual New Orleans assortment of mutts, and missed my dogs.
I survived the first weekend of Mardi Gras! The only apparent casualty was being sore from dancing down the street for 20000 steps. Now a breather until the Uptown evening parades start Wednesday and it comes fast and furious until midnight next Tuesday.