What do you do when your star says he’s 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, to which the title of “Super Krewe” would later be given by the original Rex Duke parade critic, was set to roll with its thrilling innovations: huge floats and a bona fide celebrity as King. That celebrity was movie star Danny Kaye who – through the magic of someone connected with Bacchus knowing someone, who knew someone, who knew Kaye – agreed to the gig.
Kaye, dressed in fine Bacchanal regalia, was escorted on to the float and to his throne. It was a grand 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 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 the reigning Bacchus, despite his mighty powers, could not delay nature. He had to make a run. At Gallier Hall he was escorted off the float long enough to stop at the nearest rest room. Flushed with relief, he soon returned to the throne for a worry-free ride.
Another year the reigning Bacchus was honored by another krewe as his float sided up to a Canal Street hotel. Only, the saluting 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.
Most Bacchuses have reigned problem-free and joyfully, though they’re not the only source of spectacle. The oversized floats have increasingly competed for star power with the man on the throne. The tandem floats, the ones 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 thought of a float designed with a similar turning mechanism evolved. Such floats are now in all the Super Krewes, but their roots trace back to suitcases on the tarmac.
There was also a float modification heading Kaye’s way that first Bacchus night. 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 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.