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Bacchus Stories: An Anniversary for the Wine God
Bacchus is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, leaving a legacy of more stories than there are beads dangling from the oaks along the avenue.
Here are a few of its stories:
What do you do when your star says he is freezing? The answer: Whatever he wants.
That was the situation on the night of the first Bacchus parade, Feb. 16, 1969. With great fanfare, this new parading organization was set to role with its thrilling innovations: huge floats and a bona fide celebrity as king. (The title of Super Krewe would later be given by the original Rex Duke parade critic. Full disclosure: That was me.) That celebrity king was movie star Danny Kaye who, through the magic of someone connected with Bacchus knowing someone, agreed to the gig.
Kaye, dressed in fine Bacchanal regalia, was escorted on to the float and to his throne. It was a royal moment as adoring crowd members looked on. There was only one problem. Though the evening was warm with enthusiasm, the night was frigid. The king complained. He needed to be warmed. The officers of the new krewe, skilled with the machinations of putting a parade together, faced a new issue – how to heat a throne, and to do it quickly?
Would Bacchus be toasty or would he be iced? More later.
Heating his highness would be the first of many issues the krewe members would face through the decades. One year comedian Bob Hope was the reigning Bacchus. Despite his mighty powers, he could not delay nature. At Gallier Hall he was escorted off the float long enough to stop at the nearest restroom. Flushed with relief, he soon returned to the throne for a worry-free ride.
One year, the reigning Bacchus was toasted by another krewe as his float sided up to a Canal Street hotel. Only, the toasting krewe was a bit too generous with its pouring of champagne, so that Bacchus’ royal knees were wobbly by the time he addressed his subjects at the convention center.
Another Bacchus, facing domestic discord, carried his misery with him. He was grumpy throughout his ride and showed it.
Oversized floats have rivaled for attention with the man of the throne. The tandem float, the one with several units connected, increased the size of the pageantry. Their passing is big and boisterous, though their creation goes back to a quiet moment.
August Perez, one of the Bacchus founders and a former krewe captain, was flying out of New Orleans. As the plane waited on the tarmac he noticed the wagons pulling luggage carts and how each cart turned at the same spot where the previous one had. Ideas began to click and the concept of a multi-part tandem float, designed with similar turning technology, evolved.
Such floats are now in all the Super Krewes, but their roots trace back to suitcases being delivered. (In honor of its anniversary, Bacchus is introducing two new tandems this year; one combining all the members of the reworked King Kong family and the other, the Bacchaneer, a four section pirate ship.)
Back to Danny Kaye and the matter of the king being cold. Owen “Pip” Brennan Jr., the krewe's founding captain, would recall that someone found a heater and was able to rig it up near the throne. Kaye was satisfied. Then the parade started. As the float turned onto the street, the king was thrilled with the thousands of people waiting to see him. He stood up and gracefully waved his scepter. After that Kaye hardly sat down, Brennan recalled. He forgot all about the cold as the little heater aimed its air at an empty throne.
Lesson learned that night: There is nothing as warm as the cheer of a crowd.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.