A totally random selection of the season’s best – among many
This, the parade of the King of Carnival, does it right. It is a sharp, traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras parade with all original floats and designed costumes for the riders. The floats are neither too big nor too boxy.
Many parades form along Napoleon Avenue, but Sparta, which rolls on the first Saturday evening of the parade season, has extra spectacle as the mules are positioned to pull the King’s float. Nearby, flambeaux carriers await a flame carrier who ignites their torches. At the right moment the flambeaux fire makes the mule’s pupils seem white, as though staring into eternity. At this moment, truly the season has begun.
Le Krewe d’Etat and Chaos
Satire, once thought to be a lost technique in Carnival, has had a major revival in the last two decades. Visually, Le Krewe d’Etat does it best with clearly designed floats by float builder Richard Valadie. The krewe also has its own specialty marching groups and units, such as The Dictator’s Banana Wagon. And please, there’s no King, but rather a Dictator. Le Krewe parades on the Friday before Mardi Gras. That Thursday Chaos, the heir to the former Knights of Momus organization, does an old-style satirical parade just as Momus would have done. For laughs and for historic preservation, these are two of Carnival’s best parades.
R&B Mardi Gras Standards
These are the songs from the 1960s when the city had a tiny, but thriving, rhythm and blues recording industry. The Carnival music from that era is preserved in time including “Go To the Mardi Gras” (Professor Longhair), “Mardi Gras Mambo” (the Hawketts), “Carnival Time” (Al Johnson) and the Mardi Gras Indian-influenced songs including “Iko Iko” (Sugar Boy Crawford; the Dixie Cups) and “Big Chief” (Earl King). Good stuff and still infectious to want to dance to.
Society of Saint Anne
Making the journey from Marigny toward the French Quarter on Mardi Gras morning are hundreds, perhaps 1,000 or so, of Carnival’s best maskers. Other groups join in to form a confederacy of maskers. Watching Saint Anne and its disciples on their pilgrimage to Canal Street is one of Carnival’s most genuine moments.
Between St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square on Mardi Gras Afternoon
At some point during the day, the most passionate of the season’s participants seem to congregate at this spot, which is sacred not only in a biblical and a historic sense, but also in being a temple of the season’s spirit, which draws from the Romans' Saturnalia to the present. There is music, the beat of conga drums, people dancing. If you’re moved by it, you’ve inherited the spirit, too.
Muses Walking & Dancing Groups
Between the floats of Muses is one of the best parades of all. Not only are there great, and sometime humorous, dancing groups, but also groups that roll as well, including the Rolling Elvi and the Laissez Boys – gentleman who relax while sprawled on mobile easy chairs. (See related story)
Grillades and Grits
This is the traditional sustenance partaken late at night after a ball. Many debutantes, Kings, Dukes, ladies and gentlemen have gotten their last push of energy from this dish at the post-ball breakfast. No one should worry about late-night calories until Lent. Besides, there are biscuits on the side and King Cake for dessert.
Despite what you might have heard, “Lundi Gras” became part of the local language in 1987 when Rex brought back the custom of arriving by boat on the day before Mardi Gras. (Though lately he has been arriving by train.) At Riverwalk, Rex proclaims the Carnival season, as the mayor and Zulu join him to trigger Carnival’s only fireworks show.
Proteus Then Orpheus
Lundi Gras night provides one of Carnival’s best parade double-headers. First there’s Proteus, an old-line krewe with an origin that traces back to 1882 and still keeps the look, design and style of the early parades. Then there’s Orpheus, a super krewe that’s the prettiest of the genre, which combines modern size and old-style elegance.
This is a smaller parade in comparison with the giants that prowl the streets, but its floats are totally original designs with bright foils perfect for dazzling reflections of the winter sun. Float builder Ricardo Pustanio carries on the traditions of a one-of-a-kind parade.
Alphabetically this should be listed first, but I put it last as a tribute to all that precedes it. This krewe is made up largely of people who organize other parades. It is like bosses getting the night off so they can play, too. Druids is a small but feisty parade with themes that can be provocative. See for yourself – and thank the riders for what they contribute to the rest of the season.