Bacchus is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, that’s long enough for the group to have generated some sub-anniversaries including the 40th for an event that happened on February 20, 1977. And the nation was watching.
That was the night that one of the hottest programs in television came to town, “Saturday Night Live.” Broadcast from the French Quarter as a special Sunday night edition of SNL, the show was timed to run concurrently with the passing of the Bacchus parade.
In those days Bacchus, big as it was, actually wound through the Quarter near the end of its route. The plan was that the comedy show would be positioned to show snippets of the parade. Jane Curtin, one of the SNL cast members, acted as a sort of street reporter. Opening the show was another cast member, Dan Aykroyd, sitting on the Andew Jackson statue addressing the nation as President Jimmie Carter. Gilda Radner, as Roselyn Carter, stood at the base.
Randy Newman, known for his songs “Louisiana 1927” and “Kingfish” was the host and musical attraction. Henry Winkler who played the beatnik-like Fonz on the show “Happy Days” rode as Bacchus.
Humorist Buck Henry accompanied Curtin on the street and that proved to be a dangerous task. Every time the camera turned to them for a parade update they were baraged with beads and throws from the crowd.
As a television show it was uneven. SNL was only in its second year and had never done a broadcast away from the comfort and protection of its studio. The French Quarter was a dicey place to do anything differently. Yet for a program that relished in non-conformity the evening certainly provided a lot of that.
What not even the Titans at NBC could control was Bacchus’ timing. The parade ran late; way late. For all of Curtin’s being bashed by beads the show ended with nary a passing float. That however provided the moment for Curtin’s closing remarks that should be a carnival classic:
“The parade has not been delayed. It doesn’t exist. It never did. ‘Mardi Gras’ is just a French word meaning ‘No Parade.’ Good night.”
And Bacchus kept coming.