Making a Comeback: Survival in the Year After a Paradeless Carnival
As the 1980 Mardi Gras season neared, there was anxiety among Carnival watchers. A year earlier, in 1979, all parades had been cancelled in Orleans Parish during a tense Carnival season. The local police had gone on strike wanting more benefits and bargaining rights. In the end, the krewes united behind Mayor Dutch Morial by calling off the parades and saying they, “would not be held hostage by the Teamsters’ Union.” Once Mardi Gras came and went the strike lost its leverage and failed.
A year later there was no threat of a strike, though there were concerns about lingering hard feeling between City Hall and the cops, but the mood had changed. People really, really wanted the Carnival celebration to be back and whole. Carnival that year turned out to be one of the best and most peaceful ever. A great moment in Carnival history happened that year as the parade of the Krewe of Comus approached Gallier Hall. Comus (founded in 1857), having been the first Carnival parading krewe, traditionally closed the season with its parade on Mardi Gras night. A year earlier, the police and City Hall had been at odds. This 1980 year, a unit of motorcycle police wearing dress uniforms preceded Comus and stopped in front of the podium where mayors traditionally toasted the parades. Those there would make a splash—literally. Champagne glasses were handed out to each of the motorcycle cops. The mayor and city dignitaries also received the bubbly. Then Morial and police toasted each other. That done, the glasses were good-naturedly tossed to the ground—hence the splash. The police re-mounted their bikes and rode away with Comus following and everyone cheering what was a civic love-in. For the moment at least the lingering spirit of Mardi Gras had brought joy back to the city.
What happed that night raises the issue of what to expect for this coming Carnival which, like in ’80, follows a season in which there had been no parades. The time the culprit was science rather than labor unrest, but the concern is the same—will Carnival recover?
First there is the question, will there be parades in 2022? My answer is a strong “most likely.” Unless there are more waves of viruses, the atmosphere should be better by Carnival season. The marching krewes had most of their floats almost ready to go last year when the parades were halted, so they should be prepared. There might be a problem with rounding up bands, particularly those from out of town, but that would not stop the parades. Police might be a problem, but in a different way from ‘79. There will probably be a shortage of officers to patrol all the parades. The city will need the state’s help. Some krewes have already started to pay extra for security help. More may have to do so.
As was true in ’80, there will likely be great enthusiasm from the crowd and the participants as the parades return. Carnival may have even gotten better from the experience. One of the great outcomes from the paradeless Carnival was the citywide response to decorating houses. I have long been concerned that there are too many parades and that there needs to be more activity in the neighborhoods rather than just a few standardized routes. The house decorating did that. It brought float building expertise and color throughout the town. Wouldn’t it be great if neighborhood house decorating krewes would form and they would encourage porch competition and stage block parties? That way Carnival can touch more people, even those limited to sitting on rockers or stoops.
May Adversity launch Creativity. And for that, may we all have a glass of bubbly.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.