Ed Muniz was pointing to some of the subtle fine points on the Endymion King’s float, a parade not known for its subtly. On the second unit of the tandem float were two dancing butterfly sculptures once seen in Comus, the krewe that started the continuing parading tradition back in 1857 – all Carnival traditions began with Comus. Muniz professed that he appreciates the old style of parades, but then, pointing to the blinking Endymion floats that were lining a hall of the convention center, he added, “this is the modern Mardi Gras.”
Last Saturday night, Endymion staged its annual King selection party. A crowd of 2,000, bedecked in black-tie and evening dress, carted sandwich trays to their tables then danced the night away. According to Endymion tradition, the King is picked by a lottery from among the members who buy a ticket. Muniz presided as the winning name was drawn. Later in the evening, which lasted until 2 the next morning, the royalty was paraded around the floor.
For most organizations, such a packed event would be enough for one season, but for Endymion this party was not even the year’s main event. Still to come is the parade, Feb. 14, which will have 3,100 riders – by far the largest number in all of Carnival. Later that evening the Superdome will be the setting for the annual Endymion Extravaganza, for which ticket sales suggest a crowd of 22,000, many of whom will dance to headliner country star Luke Bryan.
Welcome to the modern Mardi Gras. Here it’s represented visually in many ways, such as by the title float, which instead of a painted sign revealing this year’s theme has an electronic marquee, “just like Las Vegas” Muniz boasted. Another float will have video capability that will allow those in the crowd to see themselves on the big screen.
Financially, in New Orleans at least, both traditional and modern krewes have to adhere to the prohibition against commercialism in parades. In a world of corporate sponsorships there can be no “Google Endymion" parade. As for the traditional Carnival balls, they are private affairs by invitation only, so there are no ticket sales. They exist in a noble but fading world in which the hosts pay their own way. For the krewes that do make money, they do so off their events, not their parades. Without being specific, Muniz, who has never been known for shyness, professed that Endymion makes a lot of money off the Extravaganza. And where does it go? “I put it back into the parade” he said. Two years ago he used extra profits to fund the creation of Carnival’s largest tandem float, a series of floats commemorating the former Pontchartrain Beach Amusement park. Last year he upgraded the lighting. This year he added more electronics.
Endymion has its critics, many who say bigger isn’t better. That's true, at least not necessarily. Bigger, however, can generate more money, and when the boss is as passionate and paternal as Muniz – who founded the krewe in 1966 – bigger means more ways to be more modern. Las Vegas may one day have to work harder to compete.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7PM, REPEATED AT 11:30 PM.WYES-TV, CH. 12.