How are krewes formed and is it easy to start or join one?
In 1857, the Mistick Krewe of Comus coined the term "krewe" for its secret Mardi Gras society. Members were influenced by the Cowbellian de Rakin Society of Mobile, Ala., but set out to bring sophistication and elegance to New Orleans Carnival. Comus chose a mythological name, as did later krewes such as Rex and Momus, both established in 1872, and Proteus, founded in 1882. Later, some krewes were named after their neighborhoods. Today there are more than 30 krewes in New Orleans, and the most recent, Krewe of Nyx, first paraded in 2012.
Each krewe chooses an annual theme for its parade, which is exhibited in its floats, costumes and throws. Most krewes parade as a prelude to their annual balls. Some krewes have kings and queens, which can be selected through drawings, while other Carnival organizations, including Bacchus and Endymion, invite celebrities to reign. Instead of a king, Le Krewe d'Etat has a "dictator" (in keeping with the ongoing theme of political irreverence).
Krewes are private organizations supported by members' dues, fundraising and the sale of merchandise associated with the krewe. Some krewes are sponsored by businesses. The city doesn't sponsor Mardi Gras krewes, but it issues parade permits and provides police and sanitation services. Parade permits must be approved by the City Council.
In the secret Mardi Gras societies of yesteryear, a potential krewe member was nominated, vetted by a committee and membership was confirmed or denied by a vote of the group's membership. The nominations were largely reserved for people with close family and cultural ties to other members. In 1991 the City Council passed an ordinance to eliminate discriminatory membership practices.
Today, some krewes welcome anyone willing to pay dues; others have closed their memberships and created waiting lists. Many of the krewes maintain websites with information about how to become a member.