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Fleur de List
Our picks for Carnival's top 25 parades.
1. Rex. “Gods of All Ages” is this year’s Rex theme. The topic reflects gods and goddesses from antiquity. Rex works hard at developing an original theme and displaying it brilliantly on its floats. To show you how seriously Rex takes its themes, its announcement says: “Since the beginning of time, man has searched for something greater, some force or entity beyond his harsh mortal sphere.” Among its regular “signature floats” look for the Butterfly King based on a design from Rex’s 1882 parade as well as His Majesty’s Bandwagon, the Boeuf Gras, the Royal Barge, and of course, the regal throne float carrying Rex himself. Having first paraded in 1872, the King of Carnival’s annual procession is the longest running parade in Carnival. Rex is about tradition, style and elegance – a classic New Orleans Carnival parade. Mardi Gras, St. Charles Avenue, 10 a.m.
2. Thoth. Now in its 66th year, the krewe has a great Egyptian motif among its first few floats. It is a big and festive parade. An ambitious Uptown neighborhood route takes it past several care institutions. Approximately 1,200 riders are on board a total of 40 floats ranking it among Carnival’s biggest parades. Sun., March 2, St. Charles Avenue, noon
3. Mid-City. This is a good parade for studying float design. Float builder Ricardo Pustanio works hard to give Carnival’s only all-foil floats a unique look. This year’s theme, “50 Shades of Green,” isn’t only innovative but it’s also the kind of theme that Mid-City can do best. On a sunny day the floats can be dazzling. Mid-City is Carnival’s fifth oldest continuously parading organization. Sun., March 2, St. Charles Avenue, 11:45 a.m.
4. Zulu. This is the only organization that selects its monarch by popular election of its membership. Now in its second century, Zulu, whose mission was to give local blacks a parade of their own, is big and brassy, and lately more on time. It is a Carnival favorite. Mardi Gras, St. Charles Avenue, 8 a.m.
5. Carrollton. With roots that trace back to 1924, this year will mark the 90th anniversary of the group from which the Krewe of Carrollton evolved 67 years ago. There is nothing flashy here, but the krewe owns its own den and floats, and is certainly a staple in the Carnival menu. The first Sunday slot makes this a feel-good parade. For many people seeing Carrollton, the fourth oldest continuously parading group, is a tradition that begins the Carnival season. Sun., Feb. 23, St. Charles Avenue, noon
6. Pontchartrain. Lately this krewe has had a creative approach to its theme by presenting a word game with each float offering a different puzzle, which is more fun than looking at a force-fed theme. Look for the Super Grouper float. Parading on the first Saturday of the parade season, this krewe kicks off the daytime parades. There is usually a good mix of bands. Sat., Feb. 22, St. Charles Avenue, 1 p.m.
7. Tucks. “Tucks Lives the Sportin’ Life” is the 2014 theme of this krewe known for its irreverence and Animal House feel. While some krewes get their name from mythology, Tucks was named after a bar, Friar Tucks, where a couple of Loyola University students decided to create their own parade, ostensibly because they couldn’t land positions as white flambeaux. Not fancy, a bit naughty, but lots of fun. Sat., March 1, St. Charles Avenue, noon
8. Iris. Parading since 1959, though the group was founded 42 years earlier, this is the oldest and biggest of the all-female parade krewes. Look for feathery maids costumes. The krewe, named for the Goddess of the Rainbow, claims more than 1,000 active riders. Sat., March 1, St. Charles Avenue, 11 a.m.
9. Okeanos. Named after the Greek God of rivers, Okeanos, the god, would have felt at home in New Orleans along the father of waters. The krewe first paraded in 1950 to serve the St. Claude area of town, but eventually moved to the Uptown route. Its Queen is selected at the coronation ball by lottery. There is nothing flashy, but this is a good, old-fashioned, traditional parade to enliven the Sunday afternoon before Mardi Gras. Sun., March 2, St. Charles Avenue, 11 a.m.
10. King Arthur. This krewe refers to itself as “New Orleans’ Friendliest Mardi Gras Krewe.” While we cannot quantify that, we suppose that it speaks well for the krewe that friendliness is worth noting. Some of this parade resurfaces as the Krewe of Excalibur in Metairie. There are nice floats, especially early in the parade Sun., Feb. 23, St. Charles Avenue, follows Carrollton
A three-way tie: Endymion is the biggest. Orpheus is the prettiest. Bacchus has the history.
Bacchus. Actor Hugh Laurie will serve as Bacchus XLIV, leading a parade with the theme “Bacchus Salutes the Seven Seas.” (By our unofficial count, he’ll be the second British born Bacchus since Bob Hope.) Bacchus always draws a huge crowd to gaze at its towering floats. Among the signature floats, look for the Bacchawhoppa and the Bacchagator. Sun., March 2, St. Charles Avenue, 5:15 p.m.
Endymion. The only parade to march along Canal Street, the parade’s coming is a weekend-long social event. There is a lot to behold in this, Carnival’s biggest parade. There is no celebrity King (the crown is worn by a member drawn from a lottery), but there are many big names riding as grand marshals or celebrity guests, including country singer Carrie Underwood. Look for the seven-part Pontchartain Beach tandem float that made its debut last year. The parade will have more than 2,700 masked riders. Sat., March 1, Canal Street, 4:15 p.m.
Orpheus. Fats Domino will be setting a new precedent in this year’s Orpheus parade. He will be Grand Marshall, but he won’t be there. Instead the reclusive R&B’er will be represented by family members, and his signature will be on commemorative posters. Orpheus has the size of a super krewe and the design elements of the old-line groups. It has great walking units, too, and is one of Carnival’s prettiest parades. Lundi Gras, St. Charles Avenue, 6 p.m.
Krewe of Proteus
1. Proteus. Do not be concerned with catching throws when watching this parade. By the time it passes on Lundi Gras night you should have way more than you need, anyway. Instead, appreciate Proteus for the floats – and the history. Born in the 19th century, Carnival’s only surviving nighttime 19th-century parade is something to behold, for its design and its tradition. (Last year it staged a parade worthy of the history books as it saluted krewes from the past, though the march was mercilessly battered by rain.) Proteus is more than a parade. It is historic preservation. Lundi Gras, St. Charles Avenue, 5:15 p.m.
2. Le Krewe d’Etat. This is the only krewe in which the throne float is ridden by a dictator rather than a king. The krewe has all original floats and its own house-made flambeaux torches. This is one of Carnival’s most popular krewes, featuring good design, biting satire and great walking groups. Fri., Feb. 28, St. Charles Avenue, 6:30 p.m.
3. Hermes. Hermes will be celebrating its 75th presentation as a parading organization this year. This is the krewe that, in the 1930s, expanded participation in Carnival and would be the first to introduce neon lighting on floats. The parade is always visually exciting; it’s always one of Carnival’s most glamorous. Fri., Feb. 28, St. Charles Avenue, 6 p.m.
4. Muses. Having begun in the year 2000, this organization has had a major impact on Carnival by dramatically expanding female participation. It also increased the quality and quantity of marching groups and is rich with innovations such as its decorated high-heeled shoes. This witty all-female krewe is a must-see. Thurs., Feb. 27, St. Charles Avenue, 6:30 p.m.
5. Chaos. Chaos is a chance to experience what a 19th century satirical parade was like. The design may be antique but the satire is topical. With deep roots to the old-line krewes Chaos provides satire in the spirit of the former Momus parade. Thurs., Feb. 27, St. Charles Avenue, 6:30 p.m.
6. Babylon. Neither the theme nor the identity of the person playing the role of King Sargon are revealed by this group in the tradition of the old-style Mardi Gras. (Note the proper name is the “Knights” of Babylon, not “Krewe.”) If you’re obsessed with oversized floats this isn’t for you. If however, you want to see a classic parade, see the Knights. This parade, which has smaller float beds, like they used to be, and a theme that tells a story, is a Carnival classic. Thurs., Feb. 27, St. Charles Avenue, 5:45 p.m.
7. Sparta. This is usually the best of the first weekend’s night parades. There are lots of nice touches, such as the mule-drawn King’s float, and the “shadow captain,” a boy dressed like the captain and riding behind him to represent continuity. Floats are usually nice and visual. Sat., Feb. 22, St. Charles Avenue, 6 p.m.
8. Ancient Druids. Parading on the Wednesday before Mardi Gras, this group, made up of parade bosses from other krewes that want to have fun without the headaches, can be very good. Its leadership certainly knows how to put on a parade in the spirit of the old Carnival krewes, including maintaining the secrecy of its members, monarch and theme. Wed., Feb. 26, St. Charles Avenue, 6:30 p.m.
9. Nyx. This will be the third year for this all-female krewe and it deserves a break – rain has played havoc with the first two marches.
In Greek mythology, Nyx was the Goddess of the Night. The krewe is adding sparkle to the Wednesday night before Mardi Gras by creating a double-header with the Druids parade that precedes it. Nyx is, no doubt, influenced by Muses, one of Carnival’s biggest contemporary success stories. Ridership for this new krewe filled quickly so, like Muses, Nyx is expanding its niche. We will be watching. Wed., Feb. 26, St. Charles Avenue, 7 p.m.
10. Morpheus. This krewe closes a long parade night on the Friday evening before Mardi Gras. Its website promotes itself heavily to out of town riders who might be experiencing their first parade. Seasoned leadership could make this an up-and-coming group. Fri., Feb. 28, St. Charles Avenue, 7 p.m.
11. Pygmalion. Following Sparta, the two provide a casual Saturday night double-header without the crush of the following week’s crowds. Sat., Feb. 22, St. Charles Avenue, 6:45 p.m.
BEST OF THE ’BURBS
Caesar. Look for the signature Hydra float (it’s pretty cool) as part of the only krewe named after a Roman Emperor’s 33rd procession. Sat., Feb. 22, Veterans Boulevard, 6 p.m.
Moving on over. Three West Bank krewes have now shifted to the St. Charles Avenue route: Cleopatra (Fri., Feb. 21, 6:30 p.m.), Choctaw (Sat., Feb. 22, following Pontchartrain) and ALLA (Sun., Feb. 23, following King Arthur). The move shows the decline of the suburban Mardi Gras and the growth (and perhaps over-growth) of the Uptown route. One good sign is that Jefferson Parish has upped the standards for its parades: Each must have at least 200 riders and 10 floats. So, while the number of parades may be decreasing, the quality could be increasing.
Best date to remember. Feb. 17, Mardi Gras, 2015
So, just what is it that the Krewe of Hermes is celebrating the 75th of this year? The group started in 1937, so that would put its age at a spry 77, two years past diamond jubilee status. Instead, the hubbub is about an event just as meaningful, and perhaps more accurate, in chronicling Hermes history. There were two years during the big war when Hermes staged neither a ball nor a parade; this year then is the 75th anniversary of Hermes’ presentations. That is good enough for us. Pop the cork.
Known as the Mystic Krewe of Hermes and operating under the aegis of something called the Semreh Club (we’ll let you figure out that word’s origin), Hermes was founded during a boom period for Mardi Gras. Several parading krewes including Babylon (1939), Choctaw (’39) and Mid-City (’34) began during that decade, as well as a cotillion of groups that staged just a ball. Part of the excitement was the city’s new Municipal Auditorium, which had opened in 1930. The building was designed with two theaters, one larger than the other, each perfect for staging Carnival balls by providing ample floor space for grand marches and great sightlines from balconies. For parades there was the added advantage that the march could end along Basin Street, and then head toward the back of the building where riders would descend from their floats and head for the ball.
Romping as royalty in a public building certainly demonstrated the democratizing of Carnival, as did the very existence of krewes such as Hermes. The group represented the new majority in the season, namely organizations whose membership wasn’t from the old family aristocracy, but more from the burgeoning business-based middle class. Just as the founders of Rex had tried some six decades earlier to develop a parade to pull the city from the woes of Reconstruction, so too were business interests of the 1930s hoping to provide a tonic from the depression that would also expand Carnival activities and draw more people to the city. Among the boosters of the new krewe was Congressman F. Edward Hebert, who is said to have chosen the Hermes name. Frank Oser, a local physician, was the group’s first captain.
Across the course of its 75 presentations, Hermes has distinguished itself in several ways:
• It was the first parade to utilize neon lighting.
• True to a krewe named after the messenger god, the parade has generally been known to travel at a well-timed pace.
• It maintains the old school approach of having a theme built around a usually literary story with each float being a scene from the story.
• Borrowing from the traditions of the old-line krewes, the identity of the masked Hermes King is always kept secret.
• Hermes invariably stages a beautiful parade. It ranks, along with two other night-time groups – Proteus and Orpheus – as being Carnival’s most visually enchanting.
Kern Studios builds and paints the floats, which are designed by Scott Garver. Carnival aficionado Henri Schindler is the artistic director.
Their efforts are seen during Hermes’ traditional march on the Friday night before Mardi Gras. For years Hermes marched alone at that spot, but since 1998 the popular Le Krewe d’Etat, a satirical parade, has followed the group. The combination of the two attract near Bacchus-sized crowds along the parade route and present an interesting mix among krewes; one known for its beauty, the other for its wit. To those who want more, the Krewe of Morpheus follows.
Hermes represents the best of Mardi Gras: a classy krewe formed with a civic purpose, yet one that has been faithful to the style and tradition of the old Carnival. In the process it has grown stronger and stayed popular. All of that isn’t easy to pull off for nearly eight decades – reason enough to celebrate the year.