Here are some ways that the Carnival parade scene has changed, at least on the New Orleans East Bank, which is the epicenter of Carnival activity:
• There are no single parades anymore, except for Endymion. There was a time when parades, especially on weeknights, were spread out so that there might be one per evening. Now, with the increased demand for parade permits, all parades (except for Endymion) are part of a double- or triple-header. That sometimes puts a strain on the police and on neighborhoods, but it has been good for building parade crowds. Krewes benefit by the audience coming to see the other parades as well as theirs.
• All parades, except for Endymion, move along the St. Charles Avenue route. From the police perspective that’s good because it’s easier to plan crowd control without having to move barricades back and forth. Krewes prefer the St. Charles route because it’s pretty and benefits from a parade-watching tradition that includes many area families and university students, as well as bars and hangouts along the way.
• There are few suburban parades. The calendar on the east bank of Jefferson Parish and on the West Bank has thinned considerably. Part of the reason is quite commendable, as Jefferson Parish has put tighter restrictions on what were shabby parades. Another reason is that krewes such as Endymion, which are big and popular and parade before large crowds, have absorbed many former riders. For those in the other krewes, riding along St. Charles Avenue is more attractive than riding on a suburban highway. It is significant that ALLA, whose name is an acronym for Algiers Louisiana, now parades on the St. Charles route, too.
• All of the activity along St. Charles Avenue is causing new issues. On nights such as the Thursday and Friday before Mardi Gras, crowds, drawn partially by relatively new players such as Muses and Le Krewe d’Etat, as well as other long established krewes, have become Bacchus-sized. That has created issues with parking, the location of portable toilet facilities and billowing smoke from barbecuing. With change invariably comes the need for new laws.
• There is more street activity: Muses, Le Krewe d’Etat and Tucks have allowed for more participation by walking groups such as the Bearded Oysters, Pussyfooters, Rollin’ Elvi, 9th Ward Marching Band, Lazy Boys, Muff-A-Lottas and more. They bring humor to the street level and allow for more creative participation. Carnival’s biggest street spectacle is the Society of St. Anne, which saunters from Marigny through the French Quarter on Mardi Gras. There is no way to measure the numbers, but the total of those who participate in Carnival is likely bigger than ever.
Carnival is like a big balloon: colorful, ever expanding, but always seeming somewhat vulnerable. By Mardi Gras, the balloon rises to full view only to disappear the next morning. It succeeds because it’s well-tethered, yet has the flexibility to shift with the wind.