Mardi Gras certainly lived up to my expectations this year, with big crowds, mostly fun people, and a whole lot of creativity. It is fascinating that a whole city and hundreds of thousands of visitors let go of inhibitions and push things to the line every year. There was lots of good music, food, and all kinds of entertainment from huge organized concerts and parades to neighborhood groups marching for fun.
On Saturday I visited Cecile and Chris on my way out with a camera. Cecile rents a room in her house out on Airbnb, as is generally fully booked for the year but always is busy during Mardi Gras. She was expecting a group to check in, and a young woman from Detroit came to check in. They were part way through the process when they figured out that the woman had rented the place through a Craigslist posting that was fraudulent. Apparently the scammer takes details, including photos, from real estate sites and legit short term rental sites, and posts them on Craigslist collecting deposits or rents, and providing BS instructions for getting into the places. The woman had paid her money to the scammer, and was now in New Orleans on Mardi Gras weekend with no place to stay. Cecile was patient with her, giving her access to a computer to chase down the problem and allowed her to stay in the living room most of the day while she solved the problem. It seems like a pretty simple scam to pull off, and I am glad I haven’t been burned by it in the past.
The Quarter was busy, but not impassable, and I walked around Bourbon and Jackson Square taking some photos. The Christian assholes set up a loud and obnoxious PA system right in front of the cathedral, pointing their speakers directly at a brass band that was set up in their usual spot on a busy tourist day, robbing them of an opportunity to make tips. These guys irrationally rub me the wrong way, with their hateful “repent or go to hell” message screamed at top volume and armed security itching for a stand your ground moment. It is part of the fabric of the weekend, but makes me crazy.
The antidote was music, and after a stop at the Rbar to chat with friends, I went to Checkpoint Charlie’s to see Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue. She covers Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, John Prine, and others from the outlaw country genre along with some originals. She is a treat to see in the dive bar venue. Ken Armstrong came out, and we listened to a couple of sets and then moved on to see the Soul Rebels at the Blue Nile. It was late, loud, and funky with the newer style of brass band hitting the right buttons.
I slept in Sunday, and then walked across the Quarter with a camera to catch part of the Uptown parade at Canal via Royal Street and the Chart Room. As a counterpoint to the Christian screamers, I saw a man wearing high top stockings and a loin cloth with high heels playing a saxophone in Exchange Alley for tips, and I had to run over to Chart Room to get change. Perhaps it was not an only in New Orleans moment, but it came close. When I got to Canal Street, the parade had paused to do the celebratory formal toasts between the royal float and the krewe bigwigs at one of the hotel balconies. I took some photos of people in the crowd, and saw a high school band march by. I took a walk down the length of Bourbon, seeing some locals starting to get costumed up and the tourists doing their best(bless their hearts) from the souvenir shops.
The walk in the costumed crowds inspired me, and I came out for the evening in a fool outfit, the decorated dashiki from last Mardi Gras and a jester cap. I went to the Rbar and visited the folks on Touro, watching Chris cook gumbo and red beans before heading out to dba late to hear John Papa Gros and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, singing Mardi Gras Indian chant and funk. I stood next to a very enthusiastic francophone gentlemen from Quebec, who was bubbling over with excitement at seeing the Big Chief. It was a classic performance, with the full JPG band and an extra percussionist for the chanting. Apparently this was the 15th year of this gig, and I will seek it out next year as well. It was fun to see the crowd, with some locals who clearly knew the songs and the parts to sing mixed in with people who had not heard the music before but were having fun. I stopped by the Rbar on the way home to let my ears stop ringing, and everyone was in costume or dramatic street clothes. The bar changes character by day of the week and time, and apparently Mardi Gras weekend after midnight it is time for costumes.
Lundi Gras, the Monday of Mardi Gras is a big formal parade day, with the Zulu and Rex pre-parade ceremonies along the river in the evening. More importantly, it is the day for the Red Beans marching parade through our neighborhood. The have a sister krewe, the Dead Beans, who have a skeleton theme and march from midtown to the Treme where the krewes meet. Both groups make elaborate costumes of different colored beans, usually trying for a joke or pun.
I dressed as a porch pirate, with black pirate gear and a stack of Amazon box parts hooked to my belt like a set of keys, and joined the large crowd at the Rbar for the parade, migrating over to Touro Street to actually eat some red beans when the crowd got too big. This year I left the camera at home, playing with the crowd rather than documenting, but there were some great costumes out there.
The parade was over in the early evening, and after some party planning with the Touro Street Irregulars, headed to a burlesque show art Checkpoint Charlie’s. The dive bar seems the right venue for circus tricks performed by women in lingerie, with the highlight being the old bed of nails, cantaloupe, and machete trick. The costumed crowd and deliberately odd performances early in the evening perplexed some of the people who stuck their heads in the door. Isn’t Frenchmen Street where you go to hear jazz? Burlesque is funny in New Orleans, because the dancers of all orientations are beautiful and usually good performers, but the rules are such that they are often wearing more clothing than the people on the street or the bartenders.
I continued on to have a drink at Manolito’s and met the dive program director at the Audubon Aquarium. He pitched me on being a volunteer diver in the tank, feeding the fish, playing with the creatures and interacting with the kids on the other side of the glass. Bar talk is what it is, but perhaps next winter that could be fun. I walked into Harry’s, and saw Kristen and Nicolette, and literally knew everyone at the bar and behind it. It was a big parade and party night, so the locals self selected to be at Harry’s, but there are days where I don’t know everyone at the Craig Inn.
Mardi Gras came early, but I decided not get out at dawn to try to find the Indians or Skull and Bones. I will try to catch the Indians St. Joseph’s Day, but it was just too early. Seker gave me a wake up text, and I walked over in my Captain Show Me Your Tats costume, with white pith helmet, white band jacket, white blinged up shorts, and white chucks. I got a lot of positive comments on the costume, simple as it was. The St. Anne’s parade is a marching parade that goes from the Bywater through the Marigny and into the Quarter. The costumes and small floats are handmade and creative. One of the neighbors on Touro runs the Krewe of Confetti, and they set up on the corner and use air guns to shoot confetti over the crowd and parade every few minutes. I fit in with that krewe with the military themed outfit, although my drink kept getting filled up with confetti. The crowd was thick, about twice as many people as the day before, and everyone was costumed. My favorite reaction was a small child, probably a two or three year old girl, being carried by her mother, and looking absolutely perplexed but fascinated by the goings-on, as we all were. The look on her face said that there were many rules being violated, like the one that says adults shouldn’t ride hobby-horse giraffes down the street.
I circulated through the crowd a couple of times to the Rbar and back to the relative calm of the porches on Touro, and then back out to swim in the crowds near the confetti cannons. It was a good and mellow afternoon, with the exception of a little confrontation that Ken, wearing all black with a purple shock wig got into with a man wearing a jockstrap, no shirt, and a anatomically correct vagina balaclava pissing on his lawn, and me yelling at a woman for driving the wrong way down the street through the parade crowd. She was lost, but drunk and partying people in large groups and moving vehicles just don’t go together.
I took the drunk Mardi Gras walk down Bourbon, noticing that the costuming got less creative and the partying got harder the further I walked uptown. I stopped at Johnnie White’s, watching folks out the open doors, and got lots of positive reactions to the costume, including a woman who decided she wanted to rub her nipple glitter off on my chest tattoos. It’s Mardi Gras, baby, do what you wanna. Her boyfriend didn’t appear as enthusiastic about the plan, but there were no fistfights, and it was time to go home.
I missed a couple of the big events and parades, mostly by choice, and missed the Indians and the Blue Parade when the mounted police walk Bourbon at midnight, declaring Mardi Gras over, but all in all it was a great Carnival.