2001 Parade Season Highlights:
Best Overall Parade
Le Krewe d'Etat
Best Day Parade
Best Night Parade
Le Krewe d'Etat
Best Suburban Parade
Best New Parade
Most Improved Parade
d'Etat, "d'Etat.com"; Hermes, "The Birth of Hermes: His Nature and Deeds"; Muses, "Muses First Time"; Rex "Illustrious Illustrators"
Greetings, royal subjects. I, Rex Duke -- the omnipresent surveyor of all that is Mardi Gras -- have once again enjoyed the pomp and the pageantry (and a little bit of the déclassé) of this splendid season.
As we moved into the new millennium, I was happy to see my subjects sallying forth with parades showing touches of the old as well as the new, and I am now ready to decree who best captured the true (and traditional) Carnival spirit. I have thus set quill to scroll, and I will now bestow upon you the fruits of my labours.
Note that, in addition to the usual categories of competition, I have added two more this year: "Best New Parade" (a tribute to the fine inaugural efforts of several krewes) and "Best Suburban Parade" (it's time to honor the hustings as well). As always, dear readers, I have given my all, so lap freely from my cup of Carnival criticism.
Herewith, as we head humbly into the Lenten season, is one last look back (with raised royal eyebrow) at the season that was.
Aladdin deserves credit for adhering to its theme, "Louisiana Favorites," although it's one we've all seen before. Despite some delays, the parade remained fairly close together. The band competition was the highlight, and the music kept coming. Throws once again were in fair abundance; of particular note were the hexagon-shaped doubloons. Not as impressive as last year's debut, but solid nonetheless.
Alla was once again plagued by pesky delays. However, the theme, "Alla's Classic Civilization," was well executed, with floats honoring the Vatican, Egypt, the Phoenicians, et al. Also impressive was the quality and variety of bands, including the popular St. Augustine High band (which kicked things off) and the bagpipe group from Red Bank, N.J. Float riders doled out krewe cups, stuffed animals, spears and lots of long beads. I love those Harry Lee smiley-face magnets.
While the "Druid as Fluid" theme had me scratching my head, I enjoyed trying to connect the floats (Leprechaun = Green Beer) to the theme. I love a parade that starts on time and keeps moving. If only the flambeaux had been more evident.
I tend to equate gold with a 50th anniversary, so I was a little puzzled when I saw Aquila's theme was "The Golden Dream" for its 25th anniversary. Still, the float designs paid tribute to the United States, including the Declaration of Independence, the Civil War, and the Louisiana Purchase. The costumes were beautifully designed, and I couldn't take my eyes (or ears) off the Grace King High School marching band, which sang as well as it played.
While I enjoyed the theme, "Proverbs," I had to wonder why the title float was on the back end of parade. Sadly, Argus still allows corporate sponsorships to smother the floats -- which always costs this krewe a crown in my book. While Tommy Lasorda was a no-show as king, Argus got hip with the dynamic duo of The Man Show co-hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla, with Bobcat Goldthwait riding along for fun -- all dressed as pirates. Riders were more than generous with their beads, and it seemed like every kid went home with a moon pie.
This is a small krewe, with only 15 floats, but Atlas moved smoothly as it depicted the theme "Way Down Yonder." It's a well-worn idea, but I like the local touches, including floats honoring City Park, Bucktown, streetcars and more. The best band was from Chicago, of all places, and the throws seemed a tad scarce.
This smoothly run parade featured a classic look, punctuality and great organization -- I note with awe Babylon's evenly spread flambeaux. I also appreciate the traditional touches, such as the mounted officers and their costumes (complete with a feather in each hat), and the fact that riders kept their masks on. Signature floats included "The Hanging Gardens of Babylon" and "The Tower of Babel."
Larry King (with his own doubloon) truly was king for a day as he led this typically impressive parade. Bacchus' only transgression was a huge gap at one point that really killed its momentum. But the debut of the talking "Hail Bacchus" bead was a huge hit with the crowd, as were the popular Bacchagator, Bacchasaurus and the giant Bacchawhoppa. Krewe members remained masked while showering everyone with throws, and the theme, "Denizens of the Deep," was nicely executed. Hail Bacchus, indeed.
Bards of Bohemia
This krewe has been unfairly jostled about in its parade time and position by the City Council, but that shouldn't translate into a poor parade. Riders were relatively few, and those who did ride sometimes took off their masks. Unfortunately, the theme of "2001: A Bards Odyssey," seemed to reflect the sad saga of this krewe more than anything else.
The buzz that Caesar has become "the Endymion of Metairie" rolled right into this year's parade. The theme, "From Alpha to Omega," was well executed, and the floats were brilliant in color and varied in lighting (I love the neon!). The same could be said for the costumes, including the blue/gray soldiers outfits for the Civil War, and green aliens for the "2001: A Space Odyssey" float. Kids flocked to the Blues Clues grand marshal. More bands and a little better organization will put this Metairie krewe up with the best.
This parade was blessed with near-perfect weather, and King Jim Falter and Queen Carol Romaguera were radiant. The bursting-at-the-seams parade was punctual, but the floats could have done a better job of executing Carrollton's theme, "2001: A Musical Odyssey." Bands played on cue, and the visiting bands were delightful, particularly the boogie-intensive band from San Antonio.
This normally wondrous krewe slipped a notch this year, although I love the horse-drawn chariots and the wondrous addition of the pyrotechnics to the Captain's float. The theme, "Centurions Great Inventions," offered lots of potential for creativity, but the krewe came up a little short here. The good news is that Centurions came armed with plenty of throws to keep the crowd happy, and the parade ran very smoothly.
I always eagerly anticipate the debut of a new krewe. Chaos certainly lived up to its name with its wild parodies that poked fun at locals (Entergy's money-grubbing) and national figures (the presidential election, of course). For me in particular, it was a treat to see Momus' old cotton wagons rolling once again (Chaos bought Momus' floats, and borrowed a page from its satirical playbook). Chaos also understands the value of attention to detail in float design, and the parade ran smooth as silk.
Reigning over the theme "Some Enchanted Evening," Queen Cleopatra Alison Zellar was simply stunning in her outfit, and her float radiated with its neon-lit krewe sign. The floats featured several double-deckers, and there I detected a significant improvement over last year in the amount and quality of throws. Unfortunately, Cleopatra had some difficulty keeping her floats together this year.
I give this superkrewe lots of credit for trying to start at an earlier time when faced with the disastrous prospect of having to ride in inclement weather. Doubling up some floats to accommodate the maids helped Endymion move faster than usual, and that's a plus. People line up overnight on some thoroughfares to catch this krewe, and most agree it was worth the wait. The krewe's fiber-optic effects were a perfect match for its theme, "2001, A Space Odyssey: Mankind's Journey Into Space." King Frankie Muniz (TV's Malcolm in the Middle) was generous with his throws, including those stuffed footballs, blinking beads and Frisbees galore. Endymion truly turned adversity into triumph this year.
This West Bank, Fat Tuesday krewe doesn't strive to match the size or pageantry of downtown or even Metairie parades, but it does a nice job of attracting riders, bands and enthusiastic crowds. Some of the floats were a bit of a stretch to fit the theme, "Grela Celebrates Cajun Style," but my favorites included the Cajun Rodeo, Crab Festival and Fais Do-Do.
There is a certain elegance and grandeur about Hermes that the people love and I appreciate. Crowds went wild as this krewe rolled with its elaborate yet dignified floats conveying its self-possessed theme ("The Birth of Hermes: His Nature and Deeds"). Many of the floats, such as "Hermes Sacrifices to the 12 Gods" (with painted flames virtually engulfing the float) were truly brilliant. And in what became a rarity this season, the bands actually played. I especially like the variety among the out-of-town bands marching in Hermes. The riders were extremely generous with their throws, and I cherish my Hermes bear.
The oldest and largest all-ladies krewe slipped a tad this year. The theme, "Life Is a Celebration," was practical but generic -- and some floats (such as "Conquering Space") didn't really fit. Still, Iris starts the Saturday parades on a high note: the riders' masks were uniquely feminine, the organization was stellar, and the many military bands were impressive.
This Saturday krewe touted "Fabulous Las Vegas" as its theme, with throws that included plastic mini-slot machines and dice key chains. Isis paid tribute to all that makes the jackpot of a city so unique as floats depicted the MGM Grand, Circus Circus and other gambling giants.
King Arthur and Merlin
Uptown happily welcomed this former West Bank krewe that celebrated with a fitting "Toto, I Have A Feeling We're Not on the West Bank Anymore" theme. Except for the green-faced riders on the Wicked Witch float, King Arthur and Merlin needs to kick the excitement level up a notch. Still, the float designs and costumes were well done and perfectly matched the catchy theme. A little more electricity and throw quality, and this krewe won't want to go back to Kansas.
Le Krewe d'Etat Krewe d'Etat fabulously walks that fine line between parody and reverence of Mardi Gras tradition. This year's theme, "d'Etat.com," was so perfectly executed in its satirical quality, words fail the Duke. Float highlights included Razzputin.commie, WJr.com (with Dubya's hands illustrating the 5-4 Supreme Court decision that got him into the White House), and local digs at Edwin Edwards and Cleo Fields. The real hoot was the Alfred E. Neuman "What Me Worry?" look on Bill Clinton's face for the delete.com float. Innovative and plentiful throws such as flashing-eye skull beads and the talking beanie bears ("Hail to the Dictator!") are why d'Etat edges out Rex for Best Parade. This krewe gives any superkrewe a run for its money, enforcing the notion that size doesn't always matter.
Should I blame it on the weather? Mercury's riders seemed uninspired, and that seemed to reflect the well-worn theme, "Naturally New Orleans." If you like beauty queens, this Metairie parade is your cup of tea.
Always a pleasing part of my "Super Sunday" stay downtown, Mid-City continues to honor its unique tradition of colorful, artistic foil-covered floats and its "Greatest Bands of America" competition. The theme "A History of Mystery" was beautifully executed in floats depicting the abominable snowman, dragons and mermaids.
The anticipation of this new, all-female krewe was almost too much to bear, and the payoff was bountiful. Celebrity grand marshal Al "Carnival Time" Johnson was the perfect choice. The costumes were nothing short of marvelous, particularly the Marilyn Monroes, and everyone was wowed by the performances of the Shim Shamettes, the Wild Magnolias and the ReBirth Brass Band. I loved the necklaces featuring high heels as well as the beaded purses, which made Muses' inaugural throws unique.
It was big all the way as Napoleon matched its theme, "Exotic Realms," with big flowers, brilliant colors and bold designs for floats such as "Dragons of the Orient." All the maids' outfits perfectly matched the float design. With all that beauty, why did riders have to spoil it by failing to wear their masks? And save the snacking until after the parade; the parade-goers are even hungrier for those throws!
N.O.M.T.O.C. I find it fitting that a parade whose theme is "N.O.M.T.O.C.'s Events to Remember" was itself a memorable event. The floats were huge and often inspired -- my favorites being "Marie Laveau's Voodoo," the "New Audubon Zoo" and the homage to King Tut. Too bad there wasn't competition among the many excellent bands.
"Timeless Tales of Childhood" may not have been the most creative parade theme yet, but Okeanos' idea was well executed on floats such as "Old King Cole" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Throws were plentiful and the variety was nice. This parade was worth waiting for in the rain Sunday morning.
You know a parade does well when crowds brave a rain shower to watch it. Orpheus was one looooong delay away from perfection, but otherwise it was flawless. The beads came down like raindrops, and the Leviathan float always pleases with its signature beads. I like the new "virbloon," a small CD that plays highlights from last year's parade. Harry Connick Jr. shrewdly worked the crowd via microphone during the delay to keep everyone energized. Meanwhile, Queen Glenn Close and fellow celebrities Whoopi Goldberg and (my favorite expatriate) Hoda Kotbe likewise got into the spirit of the celebration. The floral accents on each float gave a delightful aura to the "Crescendos of Creation" theme depicting different gods of creation from around the world.
In its fifth year, Oshun still lacks the "wow" factor. The band performances, particularly Xavier Prep and St. Mary's, regrettably were among the few highlights of an otherwise uninspiring parade. Fortunately, King Shango -- Kermit Ruffins -- played his trumpet throughout (James Andrews was another highlight). I give an extra kudo to the NOPD officers at Bienville and Carrollton for catching a runaway horse and allowing its fallen rider to remount safely.
This krewe suffered for its tardiness, which is puzzling for a parade named for a winged horse. The theme, "Art in Legends and Myth," was among the more creative I saw this year. Speaking of creativity, I like the superfloat ("Helz A Poppin'") that hooked smaller floats together and bore 100 riders -- a nice touch for a krewe not generally associated with magnum-sized floats. The hand-painted wooden horseshoes also were a nice touch.
The theme, "Nursery Rhymes New Orleans Style," was great in theory but poor in execution. Titles such as "Hwy 11 Bridge Is Falling Down" and "There Was an Old Lady Who Lived in Shoe Town" were quite catchy, but the float designs didn't carry them through. Grand Marshal Norman Robinson looked dashing as Zorro. The Holy Cross and U.S. Marine Corp bands were a rare highlight.
Poseidon brings a civilized Mardi Gras celebration to West Bankers who choose not to experience Carnival elsewhere. It has the colors, excitement and overindulgence of other processions, although the "Poseidon Is Naturally N'awlins" theme was a bit predictable.
This old-line krewe has reclaimed its traditional Monday night date and this year proffered "Tales for the Tiny Folk" as its theme. Floats dating from the mid-1800s depicted classic stories such as "Frog Prince" and "Little Mermaid," and riders tossed throws in great quantity and quality. Proteus offered a solid presentation with a lot of old-fashioned touches.
This krewe stepped up the caliber of opening weekend parades with lighted floats and colorful costumes that adhered to the theme, "Las Vegas on Parade." I particularly liked the Caesar's Palace and Aladdin floats. I also enjoyed the marching bands from Colton and McDonogh No. 28. Pygmalion ended on a low note as the last few floats were lacking their full complement of riders.
The sun broke through the clouds just in time to make Rex really sparkle. The parade's marvelous theme, "Illustrious Illustrators," was carried out in style. My favorite was Maurice Sendak, whose "Wild Thing" created a wild rumpus down St. Charles Avenue -- to the delight of rows of children. Such images added a contemporary touch to the parade's iconography without sacrificing time-honored traditions such as "Le Boeuf Gras." Float-builder Henri Schindler deserves extra praise for designing each float in the artistic style of the featured illustrator.
Ah, Rhea, the muse that vexes me so. When one's theme is "Let's Party," one should inspire a party mood, n'est-ce pas? Instead, Rhea presented an uninspired effort -- and decorated T-shirts do not a "costume" make.
Outstanding float designs were once again a hallmark of this satirical krewe. However, the "Angel's Lament" theme probably struck many viewers as a tad obscure. Traditional touches such as mounted officers and flambeaux are, of course, dear to my heart.
This former St. Bernard krewe's excitement and energy were contagious as the riders and dancers truly looked thrilled to be coming down The Avenue for the very first time. The parade's theme, "Shangri-La Comes to New Orleans," was greeted with a warm welcome by the Uptown crowd, which enjoyed the oriental motif of the signature float. I enjoyed the Ursulines marching band (and younger Ursulettes), and the New Orleans Bagpipe Corps is always a standout.
This well-respected krewe delivered an organized, generous parade. It's nice to see a krewe uphold Mardi Gras traditions, and Sparta used a theme that played on itself -- "The Glory That Was Sparta" (a nod to the krewe's 50th anniversary). Among the standout floats were "Helen of Troy" and the "Trojan Horse" depictions. Next year, put down the cell phones, can the commercial logos, and save the "show 'em" motions for the Quarter and not Uptown.
Thor gets a big rating leap from last year in honor of its many improvements. The theme, "Festivals of Louisiana," was well executed in its praise of our culture. I loved the Jazz Festival float with lighted musical notes. Al Copeland was his typically ubiquitous self, bringing his family along and sporting motorbikes, a limo and boat, and fabulous beads.
Thoth gained much respect for its sophisticated theme, "Legends, Lore and Literature." Thoth's throws worked on all three levels: quality, quantity and variety. Most interesting was the idea of having several variations on the krewe's medallion beads. I give this krewe high marks for not changing its route -- and for being the only parade to pass in front of Children's Hospital.
Once again, Tucks gets credit for its playful puns while working with its "Toys for Tucks" theme (a pun unto itself). But, once again, execution didn't always measure up to a superior concept. Among my favorites were "Power Strangers" and "Tucks Plays Doctor." But shame on those mid-parade riders on one float, none of whom were masked.
While I prefer originality in parade themes ("Taste of Louisiana"), I reward a krewe that carries out its theme. This Gretna group did the trick. "Zephyrs Baseball," "Beignets at Café Du Monde" and a huge hurricane from Pat O'Brien's all made their point. Ulysses also featured the Southern Belle Twirlers, a group from Gretna that holds a state championship.
The Bard received a magnificent Metairie homage as the floats, particularly "Romeo and Juliet," splendidly matched the "Works of William Shakespeare" theme. And I'll never forget the lieutenant who boldly declared to the impatient Jeff Parish deputy, "I'm gonna keep this parade together!" And he did, at least early on. Throws were average, though, with a shower of cups ruling the day.
Count Zulu is one of the krewes that not only knows how to carry out its theme ("Zulu 2001 -- Happiness Is"), but also knows how to get a crowd up and going early on Fat Tuesday. Floats such as "The Space Program," "Professor Longhair" and "Listening to the Radio" worked quite well. Riders showered the crowd with a wide range of throws: sun shades, dolls, a Zulu football, two different types of medallions, Zulu beads, spears, even panties. The true highlight was King Melvin Armour's fabulous costume.