The deadline is approaching for my publication and when I meet Arthur Hardy, and it’s down to the wire for his, too. He tells me he’s been up until 3 o’clock that morning working on his Mardi Gras Guide, the Carnival compendium that’s now in its 38th edition. What began as an unassuming black-and-white pamphlet has grown into a colorful tome that’s sold more than 2 million copies. A local celebrity himself, appearing on WDSU as their resident Mardi Gras guide and inside source for the Parade Tracker app, Hardy had a brush with an A-lister when Sandra Bullock contacted him in 2007* about donating money to Warren Easton Charter High School (Hardy is on the board at the school). As Carnival (and our deadlines) draw near, Hardy talks about his career and the upcoming parade season.
Do you still keep in touch with Sandra Bullock? I consider her a friend and we stay in touch. She’s just been wonderful. She’s a neat, cool, smart and kind person. She’s been very vital to helping that school come back. It’s the oldest public school in Louisiana and it almost didn’t reopen. They graduated 100 percent of their seniors in the past three years, which is great for an open admission charter school.
How did you become interested in Carnival? I was always interested as a kid, just like everyone in New Orleans. I became really interested in it as a high school musician marching in bands (at Warren Easton); then I became band director at Brother Martin.
My wife and I were both high school teachers and were looking for an extra source of income – [we thought] what’s there a need for? Clearly, there’s a need for this. Why somebody smarter than me hadn’t thought of it, I don’t know. We started out making [the guides] in 1976, the first magazine in ’77. It started out small – no ads, no color – and very, very thin, but it hadn’t been done before. It took several years to break even financially but the idea was solid.
What keeps you doing it every year, especially with less interest in print? I enjoy it. Financially, it’s essential to my family’s health. But I don’t do it just for that. I really think I’m contributing. Twenty years from now if you want to know what happened the year after Katrina, we provide that information. Part of the teacher in me wants to educate and entertain at the same time – and make money at the same time.
And it’s brought me the opportunity for me to do other things – radio, TV – and that’s fun. And now websites and all that. It’s a whole new platform.
Did you ever think you’d be an on-camera personality? I didn’t really think about it, and I wasn’t afraid it’d be anything I’d be uncomfortable doing. I can truthfully say that although there’s a certain amount of stress involved, I never get nervous. I’ve done the “Today” show six times – was never nervous. When it’s over sometimes I think, “God, what did I say?”
What has changed about Carnival over the year that’s surprising? The explosion in the success and size of women’s krewes: Muses, Nyx, Cleopatra, Iris. Female krewes in Orleans Parish have just exploded, and there was a time when many people thought that wasn’t possible. People thought women could do parades, but not like Endymion and Bacchus – yes they can!
What about the increase in non-traditional marching groups in parades, like the 610 Stompers? I think it’s wonderful. It’s Mardi Gras at its most basic: you don’t have a krewe and ride on a float to participate. Really, the very first parade had no floats and there weren’t even marchers, just people dressed up in costumes walking to a masked ball, and it was a parade of masks. It’s really going back to the roots and is a wonderful example of creativity, to come up with these ideas and just do it.
Do you have a favorite parade? I do, but I can’t say because I’d make the other 49 angry with me.
What excites you about this year’s Carnival? When Carnival’s late, normally the weather’s nice and the crowds are big. I’m so glad we’re finally so over Katrina that we’re not talking about it, measuring anything before and after. We got some good celebrities [in parades] this year. The exodus from the West Bank continues: we used to have 14 parades over there, as soon as 1994. There’s three now. There’s the new Krewe of Freret; I’m interested to see how that’s going to do.
Jefferson Parish is now sponsoring a cash prize band contest with all the Metairie parades, which could help them get better bands. So many parades are in the first weekend now, so there’s competition for bands. How will that play out? Each year, I think I know what’s new, but something will happen that will surprise me. That’s one of the elements I like about this, things change.
Do you have a favorite catch from over the years? All the new things – Muses shoes, Nyx purses. It’s gone so over the top. Of course, a Zulu coconut, you can’t ever go wrong with that. I actually got hit in the head with a bag of beads live on TV two years ago at the Bacchus rendezvous outside the Convention Center. This guy was a good shot, he had to be 20 yards away from me … and bam. It almost knocked me over, but I kept going.
True confession: I’ve never ridden in a parade.
At a Glance
Profession: Carnival expert and writer/publisher of Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide Born/raised: Mid-City R esides: Mandeville Family: Wife Susan, daughter Robyn*, son Jason Education: Warren Easton High School , Loyola University New Orleans Favorite Movie: “Anything with Sa ndra Bullock.” Favorite TV show: “Frasier” Favo rite band/musician: Stan Kenton Favorite restaurant: Commander’s Palace Favorite food: Seafood Favo rite hobby: Genealogy Favorite vacation spot: “I only went to Paris once, and I’d love to go back.”
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect date for when Sandra Bullock became involved with Warren Easton Charter High School. Bullock became involved in 2007. The earlier version also misspelled the name of Robyn, Hardy's daughter. We apologize for these errors.