Hail, loyal subjects! After two years of gracefully enduring (and overcoming) the adversities that the wicked siren Katrina rained upon us, I, Rex Duke®, the world's first and foremost Mardi Gras parade critic, proclaim that Carnival in New Orleans is finally back to normal! During the entire season, I did not spy a single blue tarp, either as part of a float decoration or a costume. Our beloved marching bands were back in full force, many sporting new fineries, and parade routes returned to their pre-storm length and majesty.
I was particularly delighted to see Endymion return to its preferred Mid-City route and Atlas once again grace the streets of Metairie after a two-year hiatus. Yes, loyal subjects, life in the Big Easy is good, and this Mardi Gras was a shining example of what New Orleans does best: entertain the masses, tackle its demons with satire and aplomb, dress the city in her most beautiful clothes and pass a good time.
The season was not without its challenges, what with Mother Nature dousing the city with a rainstorm and whipping up a tornado scare that forced Chaos to cancel what promised to be a very entertaining and humorous ride (confound the heavens!) and causing Babylon and Muses to reschedule their parades. Fortunately, these krewes turned the black clouds into a silver lining by giving revelers Uptown a four-procession night featuring Hermes, Le Krewe d'Etat, Morpheus and Muses on the final Friday and adding the wonderfully traditional Knights of Babylon to a rare five-parade Sunday lineup, along with Okeanos, Thoth, Mid-City and Bacchus. Other krewes also had to reschedule parades in the suburbs due to inclement weather.
Zulu was stymied in its efforts to execute the perfect parade when one of its floats hit a tree on St. Charles Avenue near Jackson Avenue, but riders kept the crowd's spirits high by handing down Zulu's treasured painted coconuts and giving revelers a chance to see up close the elaborate headdresses and costumes for which this noble krewe is famous.
The Rex parade also had its share of delays, but that gave Rex Duke® and other onlookers a better chance to catch one of the flying disks tossed as a fundraiser for the city's charter schools " and the delay helped build anticipation for the army of truck floats that so delight my young subjects with their seemingly unlimited supply of throws.
The following pages hold a special treat this year. Among the parade reviews are photographs Gambit Weekly readers submitted through an online contest at www.bestofneworleans.com. Many readers sent me their favorite photos from the season, and we've published some of the best here, with due credit to the photographers.
Alas, as the solemn season of Lent falls upon me, I am saddened to put away my quill, roll up my scroll and trade my daily king cake for ashes across my brow and penance in my heart. Yet I revel one last time in the knowledge that I was able to attend all the parades in New Orleans, on the West Bank and in Metairie this year " and thus to share with you, my loyal and faithful subjects, the highs and lows of each procession. My fondest hope is that my musings and observations will help you relive the joy of Carnival 2008 " and inspire the krewes to aim ever higher in their artistic endeavors next year.
Mardi Gras 2008 Highlights
BestOverall Parade: (Tie) Hermes and Endymion
Best Day Parade: Thoth
Best Night Parade: Hermes
Best Suburban Parade: Caesar
Best Superkrewe: Endymion
Most Improved: Carrollton, Choctaw, King Arthur
Favorite Themes: 'X" (Ancient Druids), 'Muses Night Fever" (Muses), 'Dream Destinations" (Caesar), 'Name That Tune" (Carrollton), 'D'Etat's Dirty Dishes" (Le Krewe d'Etat), 'The Writings of Rudyard Kipling" (Endymion), 'The Love Story of Cupid and Psyche" (Hermes), 'Cocktail Concoctions" (Orpheus), and 'Royal Rivers" (Rex)
Adonis improved by half a crown this year under the theme 'Adonis Celebrates 10 Screamin' Years." Krewe members pleased young parade-goers by tossing cuddly stuffed animals and foam footballs. The costumes were inconsistent, with some riders more fully outfitted than others. Particularly well-themed floats included 'Vampire" and 'Creature from the Black Lagoon," both of which were very well costumed. Kudos to the Gretna High School band, and to the 'World Gone Mad" marching band from Austin, Texas, comprised entirely of baby boomers.
Beautiful floats such as the 'Rings of Saturn" and 'Depths of Neptune" made Alla's 2008 parade, 'Alla's Out of this World," a cosmic experience. I always enjoy the old standby 'ALLAGator," whose riders were quite enthusiastic. Costumes complimented each float's design; but, unfortunately, near the end of the parade, many riders had taken off their masks " a cardinal sin in Rex Duke's book! Some were even eating sandwiches! Tsk, tsk. Standout high school marching bands included O. Perry Walker, Helen Cox and St. Aug. Sadly, some bands left the route at Oakwood Mall, costing Alla points for losing steam.
Ancient Druids, parading under the theme 'X," put on a grand show that held together well through the 16-float procession. Favorite floats included the humorous 'X-Wives," which had a bottle of poison on front, 'X-Rated," and 'X-terminator." All of the costumes were similar, playing on a wizard coat and hat, and the floats were colorful. The seven marching bands were energetic and played often, including Tulane's marching band and those from O. Perry Walker and John Ehret high schools. The throws were bountiful " mostly doubloons, rubber rats and beads (some with breasts on them) " but were less exciting than the floats and costumes.
Representations of geographical locations from Japan to Egypt to the Caribbean combined with cleverly designed floats and excellent costumes made Aquila's theme, 'Everything Exotic," a visual feast. Rapturous plumage adorned the collars of many riders' costumes in quilted, embossed satin birds and animals. The 'Exotic Egypt" float featured a shimmering Cleopatra. Throws included the predictable beads but were generously thrown, while the stuffed animals and balls were popular among children. This Metairie krewe compensated for the paucity of marching bands (there were only two) by including additional dance teams.
Argus took a wide-eyed approach to the theme, 'A Few of My Favorite Things," with many of the 32 floats conveying patriotic and sports motifs. One of my favorites celebrated birthdays and was decorated in candy colors with a giant pony and merry-go-round; riders dressed in birthday-cake hats and birthday-candle glasses. Celebrity guest rider Al Roker may not have taken credit for the beautiful weather, but he cheerfully bantered with parade watchers. On a less sunny note, the Coke float was a disappointing commercial intrusion on an otherwise fun theme. The procession included 12 musical groups, but only four were marching bands, including the crowd-pleasing Ponchatoula High School band. Among the parade's prized throws were magnets from the 'Harry Leesiana" float.
Atlas didn't have to hold the world on his shoulders so much as bear the burden of a rain delay, forcing the parade to move from Friday to Monday night. Unfortunately, changing its schedule left the procession with no marching bands, but there were two musical groups riding on floats. A number of dance teams also brought music to the mix. The theme of 'Hollywood Movies" allowed for an entertaining variety of float ideas and colorful costumes. Standouts among the 20 floats included 'The Devil," 'Over the Rainbow," and 'Grease." Riders were generous with throws but relaxed on masking. I missed Atlas the last two years, and it was good to see this krewe make such a respectable comeback.
The Knights of Babylon surely reached for the stars this year with the theme, 'Babylonian Sky." Babylon rolled three days late because of inclement weather, but theme execution was an example of how simplicity can reign supreme in the right hands. The leading sculptures on each of the floats, the astrological signs, were beautifully done. Flowers and other foliage adorned the floats in homage to Babylon and its ancient gardens, while each float was blue as the night sky and painted to correspond to that particular sign's iconography. Riders' costumes echoed each float title. Of note were the powdered wigs on 'Libra" riders, the crab hats for 'Cancer" and the rams' horns for 'Aries." Babylon lost some points for the absence of marching bands (probably due to rescheduling) and for mediocre throws.
Bacchus was clearly pumped up to celebrate its 40th anniversary, and Bacchus XL Hulk Hogan did his part to get the crowd's endorphins flowing. This year's theme, 'Bacchus Celebrates 40 Years of Fun," allowed for variety in float titles " conveying topics in film, fashion and television by the decade, including 'Television from the '80s." With such a large krewe, variety can also lead to a lack of consistency. Some floats' riders were much better costumed than others, and not all riders kept their masks on. There also was disparity in the quality of throws from float to float, though Bacchus medallion beads were abundant throughout. Bands were plentiful, as always, and the krewe's signature floats are consistent crowd pleasers. This year, the 'Harry Leesiana" rolled without riders in silent tribute to the beloved late sheriff.
Everyone wanted to be on Veterans Memorial Boulevard for Caesar's tantalizing 'Dream Destinations" parade. Floats depicted vacation sites from Disneyworld to Hawaiian beaches to Scottish castles to Egypt. Another crowd-pleasing destination featured the Saints at a Super Bowl, complete with riders costumed as players and referees. A Harry Lee memorial float with a riderless horse and backwards boots added a reverent note to the procession. Overall, floats and costumes were bright and well executed. The parade's signature elements " fiber-optic-lighted headdresses of royal riders and the hydra float " were equally impressive. Caesar featured 10 high school bands, and throws were bountiful in most areas. Once again, Caesar captures the Best Suburban Parade honor this year. Hail, Caesar!
This veteran krewe, originally based in the Carrollton neighborhood, executed its theme, 'Name That Tune," with aplomb. Each time a float came upon me, I shivered with delight and anticipation at the colorful iconography and costumes, which were well tailored to the floats' song titles. As an extra treat, riders' headpieces were matched to the songs. By the sixth float (of 25), I was hooked. 'Crocodile Rock" sported a crocodile at the bow and riders dressed in bayou getup with overalls and straw hats. 'Jingle Bell Rock" had riders in Santa outfits, and 'I Just Want to be King," was decorated with a great jungle scene, with riders donning lions' manes for hats. The parade was not well attended, but the crowd that did turn out had a rip-roaring time, despite sometimes-scant throws.
Centurions was all business with the theme, 'There's No Biz Like Show Biz." Individual floats shined like new and executed their respective themes well. 'Peter Pan" featured Captain Hook, the ticking clock and riders dressed as Peter. 'Oklahoma" had masked cowboy riders and a deer. Other memorable floats included 'Miss Saigon" and 'Phantom of the Opera." Younger parade-goers particularly liked the foam sword throws, while older revelers grabbed for lighted-medallion long beads, foam coozies and doubloons.
Cleopatra showed that grace is also part of her beauty. In spite of rescheduling because of rain, this krewe put on a well-received parade. Only a handful of bands were unable to make the rain date. The group's 19 floats shined under the theme, 'Cleopatra Lights Up Broadway." 'Gardens of Grandeur" and 'Isn't it Romantic" were particularly pretty. Riders were well masked and often hammed it up in the roles of their float's theme. Cleopatra threw generously and finished on a fun note " with a final float sign reading: 'See you next year rain or shine." Bravo!
Choctaw's 'Worldly Travels" collected points in all categories as the impressive float designs and costuming made my head spin amid a whirlwind of color. Well-coordinated rider garb matched well-designed floats that were fresh and new. Most impressive were the variations on Native American headdresses and the Polynesian headdress of the Hawaiian Islands. Another fantastic float included the LSU Tigers. The riders continued their victorious celebration by devoting their energy to including everyone in the fun. Some of the most illusive and highly prized throws included the Choctaw spear. Though the weather was overcast and somewhat chilly for my old bones, that didn't stop the marching bands from turning out in fine form.
Endymion celebrated its return to Mid-City with a massive parade and a colorful, original theme from classical literature. 'The Writings of Rudyard Kipling" was beautifully visualized on floats depicting The Jungle Book and Kipling's tales of India. The parade featured 25 floats, many of the extra-long tandem variety, and their design still has all the bright blinking lights " plus an increasingly emphasized integration of props and elements related to the theme. The extravagant procession featured more than 20 bands, including the St. Augustine Marching 100. Celebrity riders included Kevin Costner, the Go-Gos and the Doobie Brothers. The krewe also unloaded a prodigious amount of medallion beads, footballs, pillows, cups and other throws. Overall, Endymion marked its return to Mid-City with an over-the-top procession, earning it Best Superkrewe honors and a tie (with Hermes) for Best Overall Parade. Welcome home, Endymion!
King Arthur led off the Excalibur procession, and what followed was a fun tour of the world that fit nicely with the krewe's motif. Individual floats for 'A Knight at the Castle" displayed famous castles around the globe and from literature. Prime examples included 'Windsor Castle" and 'Cinderella's Castle." Many of the 20 floats appeared to be new, and costumes matched individual floats nicely. The procession had only two marching bands, which delivered spirited performances, but two musical groups riding on floats and five dance teams added high notes of enjoyment.
As always, this West Bank stalwart " the first to parade in Gretna when it began in 1947 " made Mardi Gras a huge family affair, drawing crowds from its home base as well as outlying areas. The krewe kept revelers waiting for an unconscionably long time, but rewarded their patience with an extra half-dozen floats and spirited marching bands from Chicago, Jeanerette, Woodville, Miss., Lutcher and Kentwood. The theme, 'Let Us Entertain You," was conveyed by floats based on musicals " many of which had appeared in other parades. My favorites were 'Lion King" with a lovely lion on the front and riders wearing mane hats. 'Music Man" boasted a huge trumpet, and riders wore masks and visors with sequin musical notes. Lots of the riders were youngsters, which delighted those along the parade route.
Hermes followed up last year's masterpiece 'Visions of Valhalla" parade with a perfectly executed mythological theme. The love story of Cupid and Psyche was told chapter by chapter on 27 beautifully designed (and, dare I say it " voluptuous) floats adorned with gorgeous sculptures of the lovers Cupid and Psyche as well as their daughter Pleasure on the final float. The Serpent on the float articulating the adage, 'Love cannot dwell with suspicion," was also hauntingly well done. Flambeaux lit the procession under the oaks on St. Charles Avenue, and I didn't see a single unmasked rider. The procession featured many bands, including Xavier Prep, McDonogh 35 and West St. John, as well as bands from outside the region. Hermes doesn't throw a great variety of beads, but viewers seemed satisfied just looking at the enchanting floats. Once again, Hermes wins the title of Best Night Parade and this year ties with Endymion for Best Overall Parade.
The women of Iris kept the crowd's eyes on Broadway. The procession of 27 floats celebrated long-running shows like 'Chicago," 'A Chorus Line," 'Showboat," 'Babes In Toyland," 'Music Man" and 'The King and I." Costumes and throws matched the float themes. Everyone on the 'Annie" float wore bright red wigs and dresses. The 'Peter Pan" float handed out medallions with Peter's head at the bottom and had other characters like Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and Wendy on the strand. A total of 13 bands marched in the parade, and a favorite was a group from Jackson, Miss., that funked it up with wigs and tie-dyed uniforms. Texas A&M's drill team also drew cheers. Musicals were a popular theme this year, but the Krewe of Iris' great attention to detail in costumes and throws " and reverence for traditions in masking " make it worthy of an encore.
The theme, 'Nights to Remember," gave Isis a lot of room for creativity. Titles included 'Prom Night," 'Night at the Races," 'Wedding Night," and 'Nightmares," a float covered in skulls and fiery devils (an enjoyable foil to the sugary floats like the Grease-themed 'Prom Night"). The court floats' riders were gorgeously adorned, and while the themed floats' riders were less fanciful, they made up for it in glittery face paint. Particularly charming were the white satin brides in tulle veils on the 'Wedding Night" float. Throws consisted of the usual, with the exception of one of my favorite New Orleans snacks, Chee Wees.
King Arthur decided to be a local hero this year. The Knights did a good job with what would seem to be an unimaginative theme: 'New Orleans Loves a Parade." Among the 20 floats in the parade, the themed ones celebrated everything from Easter and Southern Decadence to St. Patrick's Day, which was honored with two floats. The Barkus parade marches at the same time as King Arthur, and the krewe honored it with a float as well. 'Saints Second Line" might have been a bit of a stretch, but I'll not quibble with local favorites. As for its own lore, Merlin must have been working some strange magic because there were two Guineveres in the parade. East St. John was among the 10 bands in the procession, and the dancing group Rhythms added an all-male hip-hop segment to its lineup, which brought a positive reaction from the crowd. In another throwback to local traditions, the riders threw old-style glass beads.
Le Krewe d'Etat
Even as Le Krewe d'Etat offers a nod to tradition by distributing a colorful parade bulletin each year, this irreverent bunch kept its place on the biting edge of current events. This year's satirical feast was full of 'D'Etat's Dirty Dishes" " a very clever use of favorite foods to convey political and social satire. The 'Mile High Pie in the Sky" float showed viewers where to find recovery czar Ed Blakely's 'cranes in the sky." 'Whore D'Oeuvres" showed what's cooking in the 'U.S. Sin-ate," thanks to David Vitter, while 'Rotten Apple Turnovers" found a few worms at City Hall and 'Dancing Dogcatchers" took a bite out of Michael Vick. The krewe's 21 floats included a reprisal of the signature float for the krewe's High Priest, which is a visual treat. Riders tossed many blinking throws to the crowd. There also were walking skeletons and 18 bands. Once again, Le Krewe d'Etat left 'em hungry for more.
Huzzah!!! Who knew what heights could be reached with foil? Hitting a milestone this Carnival season, the krewe of Mid-City debuted its first-ever 50-person float, which replaced six floats lost to the savagery of Katrina. Its 75th Anniversary celebration featured floats with new foil and decorations from the ground up, made possible through donated time and fundraising by krewe volunteers. The floats were wonderfully constructed with an array of color, layers and textures. They were decorated with hearts, flowers, fleur de lis and foiled foliage. Although some masks were missing (naughty, naughty) costumes were traditional and simple, which made sense because of the almost overwhelming barrage of colors and textures in the float decorations. Of six marching bands, St. Augustine's Marching 100 was the most impressive in size, and St. Mary's deserves accolades for keeping the crowd entertained, particularly during stationary periods. But Eleanor McMain's band had the most enthusiasm. The krewe's Mid-City brand of potato chips brought a smile, and riders were generous even at the end of the route. The 'Winona Steam Engine and Calliope" was a grand final touch.
A seemingly fortuitous assemblage of disparate ideas, the God of Dreams brought together a strange variety of floats in its 'Crescent City Dreams" parade. Unfortunately, the cohesiveness of the theme and floats was as disjointed as some of my dreams during a restless night. In some cases the only thing they seemed to have in common was that they were somewhat New Orleans specific " 'Spanish Influence," 'Arrival of the Ursuline Nuns" and 'Christmas on Canal Street." The unique Morpheus signature floats were worthy of mention, as was the krewe's homage to the SPCA and Barkus with 'Mardi Gras Goes to the Dogs." Costumes and masks were appropriately donned and worn throughout, and the throws were exceptional in both quality and quantity " big bags of beads, toys, stuffed moons, cups and medallions.
Muses proved that it's never too late to go dancing. Its rain-delayed parade had to roll last on the final Friday night of Carnival and didn't finish until well after midnight. But the satirical parade theme, 'Muses Night Fever," got in the groove by putting political twists on disco favorites. Those lucky enough to get the liner notes with improvised lyrics for each float's title song can treasure them like oldies. Although the float themes were very witty, the amount of writing on the floats year after year is hard to read given the size of the crowds along the parade route. In addition, by the end of the procession, floats were traveling too fast for viewers to catch their jokes, let alone enjoy the parade. What Muses does better than any other krewe is offer a wide array of really great throws. This year's roller skate was a big hit, as were big disco-ball beads, blinking beads, lava lamp key chains and many other signature trinkets. The rider's big wigs and costumes were a delight. There were 15 bands in the parade as well as Muses' irreverent perennial marching groups " the Pussyfooters, the Bearded Oysters and the Camel Toe Lady Steppers.
While not an original theme, 'Signs of the Zodiac" floats remained consistent throughout this Metairie day parade, and floats and costumes were well matched in color and detail. Speaking of detail, attention to that most revered necessity was Napoleon's forte this year, as it boasted lots of bright and flashy accoutrements. Costumes were standard satin tunics with sequins, jewel-toned colors, and riders practiced admirable glitter application techniques. The 'Aries" float was particularly impressive with a giant, imposing sculpted ram leading the way. Riders were very generous with throws, teddy bears being among the most popular with the crowd. Horse-drawn floats harkening back to the days of my youth, in addition to larger floats, made for a solid mix of traditional and new. The George H. Corliss High School marching band stole the show with its well-executed music and dancing.
Always a spirited and eclectic krewe, NOMTOC, an acronym for New Orleans' Most Talked Of Club, rolled through the streets of Algiers with its 'NOMTOC's World Tour" parade, featuring two dozen floats and spirited marching bands, including Algiers' hometown favorite O. Perry Walker. Dispersed among the bands and floats were popular dancing groups, such as one from John McDonogh, whose performers entertained crowds with Mardi Gras umbrellas as props. Riding clubs, of which there were about a dozen, also were popular additions. The floats were colorful and well decorated, taking revelers to places such as 'Wine Country" and even Hades, which was depicted on a float that had orange, lapping flames. Costumes matched the floats, exhibiting vibrant colors, plentiful glittering trims and hats matched to the theme of each float. Riders were generous with throws, which mostly were stuffed animals and beads, but lucky revelers were rewarded with the krewe's signature lighted jug man beads and jug man dolls.
Okeanos, with 14 floats and a mild-mannered crowd, was a wonderful way to start another day of revelry, and I loved the krewe's 'Back to the Future" theme " meant to represent various aspects of New Orleans' culture that have returned post-Katrina. But, some of the float titles were so broad they could have been applied to any place. 'Fine Dining," 'Paddle Boats," 'Parks & Carousels" and 'Zoos and Shops" seemed a tad generic. I admired the 'Aquarium" float the most, with its happy octopus and brightly painted coral reefs. The costumes were traditional and the throws were generous. The Cajun Indians on horseback were a bonus, and of three marching bands, George Corliss' members beat their drums with the most vigor.
Orpheus' 'Cocktail Concoctions" parade was worthy of a toast from Rex Duke®. The theme initially struck me as an odd alternative to mythology and world culture, but the floats were decorated in Orpheus' typically intoxicating style of beauty and ornamentation. And, after all, New Orleans does have quite a lively cocktail culture. The 'Milk Punch" and 'Screaming Banshee" floats stood out among the 30 in the parade. While riders were colorfully costumed, the outfits were a challenge to match to float subjects in some cases. Signature floats like 'Leviathan," 'Smoky Mary" and 'Trojan Horse" were in fine form and highlighted by the krewe's confetti blowers and rolling skylights. Notable among the more than 20 bands were those from O. Perry Walker, St. Augustine, McDonogh 35 and South Lafourche. Throws were generously bestowed in both quantity and variety, but large-size doubloons were particularly popular. Overall, this was a very refreshing twist for a superkrewe.
Wary as I often am about getting my majestic garb wet during a parade, I nevertheless ventured forth bravely into the cold and stormy weather to view this year's kickoff parade. I eagerly awaited the parade's fanciful theme, 'Once Upon a Time," hoping to see some of my favorite stories represented. Though a tad generic, the theme had great potential. Oshun's execution, however, fell short. There was a dearth of floats that actually conveyed the theme, and some had scant riders. The costuming was spotty and often missed the mark, plus many riders gave up on masks altogether. Even though the crowd was sparse, riders were light-handed with the throws. I got no medallions but did catch a ball, a tiara, a cup and a stuffed animal. A tip of my scepter to the 'Cat in the Hat" and 'Charlotte's Web" floats for best overall in the parade, and a hearty round of applause for marching bands such as McDonogh 35 and Joseph Clark, which kept things fun despite the rain.
Poor, poor, Pegasus. This whimsical beast of burden was hardly given his due with this krewe's rather mundane parade theme, 'From Sea to Shining Sea." The 14 floats paid homage to historical events and individuals as well as fictional characters " from Christopher Columbus to George Washington to Don Quixote. The fact that there were only four major floats was disappointing. Those four, however, were eye-catching, and many of the riders' costumes matched their floats. The marching bands were less than enthusiastic for the most part, but Frederick Douglas High School stood out for getting the crowd moving. This small parade had a lot of potential but lost points for the dearth of interesting throws and for presenting too few floats beyond those carrying members of its court.
'Throw Me Something, Mister!" attempted a clever tribute to fellow parades and krewes, but identifying what some floats related to was tricky. The only clue was in the float name, which listed the date a particular parade rolled. It helped if you were lucky enough to catch a cup that served as a decoder of sorts " listing 2008's parades by date " but it still took some brain power to match floats to krewes for the days when more than one parade rolled. Pontchartrain's traditional and charming fish floats led the procession, and floats honoring Iris and King Arthur were some of the most festive and exciting. Rider apparel was of the standard variety, with colors matched to the floats most of the time. Diverse throws were plentiful, but the most important was the decoder cup. Marching bands were in full form " most noteworthy was Washington Marion High School from Lake Charles, which had dancing trombonists and cymbalists.
Proteus' strength is that it doesn't change with the currents but rather maintains a steady course honoring many wonderful Carnival traditions. While this year's theme didn't draw on a single mythical or literary story, 'Realms of Enchantment" offered a canvas to create colorful floats drawing on different fairy tales and cultures. Because of the way Proteus' old wagon-wheel floats shake and shimmer, the glittering paper decorations of enchanted forests and fairies were indeed a spectacle on The Avenue. Other krewe traditions include mounted knights and riders fully masked throughout the parade. There were more than 10 marching bands as well as marching brass bands. The krewe's seahorse medallion beads are always popular, and crowds also grabbed for the krewe's newer light-up seahorses.
The theme 'Heroes of Fact and Fiction" gave Pygmalion the opportunity to use recycled floats, including 'Sinbad," 'King Kong," a fireman, an astronaut and a curious one titled 'Susan B. Anthony" that actually had General George Patton on the front. The costumes were acceptable, but Pygmalion needs to remind riders of the tradition of masking on a float. One rider didn't even have on a costume! That aside, this krewe was generous with throws " mostly beads, doubloons, cups, stuffed animals and giant toothbrushes " and it provided some entertainment with three marching bands, although the musicians were lackluster. I hope for a more spirited showing next year.
Rex spanned the world with its fluid 'Royal Rivers" theme, which allowed the krewe to show off a host of multicultural costumes, float designs and a beautifully vibrant color palette. A few of my favorites were 'Atchafalaya," 'Ganges " and 'Yellow" rivers, along with the creepy 'River Styx" floats. The parade was delayed by an accident in the Zulu parade that preceded it, but Rex's procession never quite recovered, hitting rough water with huge gaps at several points " an organizational problem the King of Carnival should work on before he sets sail next year. In the end, this spectacle was certainly worth the wait (though there were many waits). Throws were plentiful and included beads, flying disks, doubloons and cups. Rex did a royal job of delivering one of the most beautiful parades in recent years, made rich with about 20 marching bands, including those from LSU, Tulane and several military groups.
Unfortunately, sometimes a parade is 'like déja vu all over again," to quote baseball great Yogi Berra. Rhea recalled themes from its past with a theme of 'Déja vu," and the obviously recycled floats were well past their prime. The collection of 19 floats didn't pull together a strong theme but were enhanced by fun costumes. The 'Roaring '20s" float featured riders in flapper costumes. Riders on the 'Second Line" float also had colorful costumes and accessories that included parade parasols, but overall the floats held scant riders. Among the four bands in the parade was Haynes Middle School, which impressed the crowd with its efforts. Overall, Rhea needs to kick its efforts up a notch.
A great lineup of bands heralded Shangri-La's 35th anniversary parade. The St. Augustine Marching 100 led the procession, and fine performances were turned in by bands from Warren Easton, John McDonogh, McDonogh 35 and J.S. Clark. WWL-TV anchor Angela Hill rode as celebrity grand marshal and highlighted the krewe's 'Glitz, Glamour and Grandeur" theme. What Shangri-La does best is accentuate its own identity. The signature floats and many small floats for royals and honorees have beautiful Asian-themed decorations. Temples, Buddhas and Chinese characters abound. Also in the parade was a group of costumed dragons running in the streets interacting with spectators. Asian images on a variety of throws also reinforce the motif. The theme, however, was not entirely clear, as some of the individual floats loosely pulled together the concept with titles ranging from 'Venice" to 'Circus of Mexico."
Sparta's 2008 theme, 'In 3/4 Time," was 100 percent coordinated, with colorful costumes and floats depicting various titles related to waltzes, like the 'Shakespeare Waltz," 'Bastille Day Waltz" and 'Cinderella." The most original floats had clever titles such as 'To Bead or Not to Bead." All costumes matched their corresponding floats, but some riders failed to keep their masks in place at all times. There were plenty of marching bands, with the West Feliciana and St. James high school bands among the most impressive. Throws included swords and beads, but the krewe should endeavor to be more creative with their throw selections and more generous on parade day.
'Nights on Broadway" brought big shows to Metairie. Thor's 14-float parade featured floats depicting popular musicals such as 'Hair," 'My Fair Lady," 'Camelot" and 'Damn Yankees," but many of these same floats made their way into several parades this season. Costumes were not inspired, but riders did respect the tradition of staying masked. Thor also excelled in throw selection and generosity. There were large beads, flying disks, stuffed animals and spears. There were only two bands in the procession, but five dance teams kept spirits high. Many parade-watchers also appreciated the opportunity to see the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales up close.
A kink in the schedule that made its krewe roll down St. Charles Avenue behind the Krewe of Mid-City was one of the few miscues in a beautiful Thoth parade that celebrated 'Traditions." The long procession included 42 floats, and individual titles honored festivals and holiday traditions from near and far. The 'Louisiana Swamp Fest" float featured a life-like alligator. The 'Chinese New Year" float boasted a smoke-billowing dragon, and the 'Long Beach Festival" float was very pretty. Costumes matched the floats well, but I spied a few unmasked riders. Krewe members were generous with throws, including spears and specialty beads. Sixteen marching bands, including one from Michigan, kept the crowd entertained. Above all, Thoth continued to honor its long tradition of visiting Uptown hospitals and shut-ins, and its extra efforts earned it the Best Day Parade honors this year.
Born in a college bar, Tucks has always had an appetite for raucous fun. This year's 'Faughty and Still Naughty" parade was flush with bawdy jokes and antics. Besides its toilet throne for the king, one can expect to see Tucks indulge in excesses like go-go dancers in cages, the hot tub float with a slide, the Elvis float and more. The 'Jackson Family Values" float had a hauntingly realistic Michael at the front. Overall, however, it wasn't always clear how every riff fit the theme. The krewe loves popular culture, and one of the recurring groups is a Star Wars-attired crew of marchers. Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the Star Wars series, rode with them as a special guest, and the Boba Fett character added some New Orleans Saints touches to his intergalactic uniform. Costumes were well done throughout. Throws included traditional prizes such as Tucks' plungers, dolls and toilet paper.
They say that lighting doesn't strike twice, but it's hard to say that a parade tribute to 'Capitals of the World" is entirely unique. Nevertheless, Zeus celebrated some of the world's great cities with its 24 floats, including Washington, D.C., Paris, Dublin, Beijing and Madrid. Not all the cities featured were national capitals, as was the case with Honolulu, which had riders wearing fun luau costumes. The Marine Corps Band led the procession, but there were relatively few other bands. Several high school bands traveled from Mississippi to march. Specialty throws include the Zeus lighting bolt, and there were the usual cups and medallion beads.
I was somewhat befuddled on Mardi Gras morning, and not because I had too many cocktails. The Zulu parade's theme, 'World of Legends, Heroes and Folklore," lacked cohesion and left me confused. Movie-inspired floats like 'Finding Nemo," 'Batman," 'Nightmare Before Christmas" and 'Harry Potter" were interspersed with other floats with names like 'Timbuktu." The combination made me scratch my head. Zulu's costumes were great, though, with some of the best headdresses and royalty outfits to be seen in all of Carnival. The experience was musical, with St. Augustine High School's Marching 100 leading the way, and the Mitchell High School band from Memphis keeping up the pace. The throws were among the best parts of this parade, and revelers begged for prized coconuts (and often were rewarded) during the many stops and delays along the parade route " at least one caused by a float hitting a tree. Other sought-after throws included huge, stuffed snakes, Zulu medallion beads and spears.
Until next year, hail and farewell, loyal subjects!
- Brian Kelley
- Kathy Olsen
- Leslie Collom