Hail, loyal subjects! As I put away my mask and dab the ashes from my forehead, I ponder not only my eternal fate but also the Mardi Gras season just ended. I saw many, many bright spots in this year's Carnival season, from Endymion's lighted constellations to the new duck floats in Muses' procession to the sharp satire of the lampooning krewes. Riders, bands and other marching groups put on a wonderful array of parades, and now it falls to your faithful Carnival critic, Rex Duke™, to salute their efforts.
There were several milestones this year — the Krewe of Iris' centennial, the Krewe of Thoth's 70th anniversary and King Arthur's 40th anniversary. Sadly, the festive season was marred when a driver, who NOPD says was intoxicated, injured spectators on the neutral ground in Mid-City during the Endymion parade (see I-10, page 8).
Your humble Carnival critic has likewise reached a milestone: This year and henceforth, I will not award crowns to the many parading crews as I have done for more than three decades. While I'm told that my ratings have had a tremendous positive effect on many krewes as they compete for Carnival's "best in show," I recognize that some of the less affluent krewes feel scorned by perennial low marks. So, starting this year, instead of rating individual krewes, I offer my reflections on the best and brightest of the spirited season. I hope, dear readers and loyal subjects, that you find this change — like so many that have shaped our beloved Mardi Gras over the decades — a positive one. Herewith my observations:
Fifty shades of orange. It's no surprise to see a rash of political satire at Carnival following an election year, but there may have been more floats dedicated to President Donald Trump than he received votes in Orleans Parish.
Krewe du Vieux was up first on the calendar, and it delivered several Trump-related floats. The subkrewe K.A.O.S.' "Orange is the New Black" fielded an army of droogs a la A Clockwork Orange. Trump replaced the dystopic novel's menacing gang-leader Alex. The Krewe du Mishigas' AlieNation float took a Star Wars turn, with a massive Jabba the Trump figure seated with Lady Liberty chained at his side instead of Princess Leia. The Krewe of Comatose welcomed the administration's warm view of Vladimir Putin in a float titled "The Russians are Coming," with the Russian leader sodomizing Trump as a comic propaganda film screened on the back of the float.
Larger satirical krewes also lampooned Trump. Krewe d'Etat's "800 lb. Orangutan" featured an orange King Kong figure (with Trump's head) climbing the Washington Monument. Knights of Chaos reworded Trump's signature baseball cap with the words "Make America Grate Again," and the float was plastered with outrageous quotes attributed to Trump.
But perhaps the funniest float was one of the tiniest. Several shoebox floats in the 'tit Rex parade offered spirited takes on the group's otherwise sedate theme of "'tit Rex Takes a Nap." One tiny work depicted a "Ritz" hotel room in which a tiny naked Trump watched two Barbie dolls urinate on a bed while Putin took photographs. Another float titled "Tyrant-asaurus Wrex" featured an orange dinosaur atop the White House with a wrecking ball dangling from a crane. In another float, Lady Liberty slept with her head in an oven.
Best gumbo. Floats depicting food are a recipe for success with Carnival crowds. Schadenfreude isn't a dish that Rex Duke recommends very often, but if the New Orleans Saints can't make the playoffs, then delight in the failure of the Atlanta Falcons we must. Bacchus' parade celebrated the Saint's 50th anniversary, but one of the most popular floats was devoted to the Falcons. It featured a huge pot of "Dirty Bird Gumbo," and ingredients placed around the float enumerated Saints victories.
Thinking outside the boxers. It's easier to fall from grace than out of office. One of the most amusing takes on the saga of Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni's texting scandal came from Krewe d'Etat. Its "Yenni's Risky Business" dance team featured the Dictator's Dancin' Dawlins — a troupe that has a satirical theme and routine every year — in white button-down shirts and white and pink boxers with tiny hearts. Their steps weren't quite the look of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, but they were impressive. The float was followed by a truck with bathroom signage humor and a float featuring Yenni's head on a praying mantis — the float was titled "Preying Mantis" — holding underwear in its forelegs.
All the ducks in a row. The Krewe of Muses debuted the season's most popular new signature float, a mother duck and three ducklings, all painted like bathtub rubber duckies. The four follow the Muses' signature bathtub float, giving the krewe its first multi-trailer signature float, joining Orpheus with its Leviathan and Smokey Mary floats and Endymion with its Pontchartrain Beach float. Kern Studios built the ducks with its precision robotic carving machine. Muses members threw several duck-related throws, including rubber ducks with a red shoe tucked under a wing and blinking rubber duck medallion beads.
Sunday remains game day. Bacchus' theme saluting the New Orleans Saints 50th anniversary recalled many fond memories for fans, and even the not so pleasant Ain'ts years, when fans in the Superdome wore bags on their heads. The procession also included many former players, notably, John Gilliam, who returned the franchise's first kickoff for a touchdown in Tulane Stadium in 1967. Punter Thomas Morstead rode in the parade. Fans had to settle for the likenesses of other players. But many cheered for Steve Gleason representing his Team Gleason foundation, which advocates for people suffering from neuromuscular diseases such as ALS.
Float of the Valkryies. The Krewe of Proteus threw a magnificent traditional parade, full of floats with traditional paper flower ornamentation, marching bands, flambeaux and few other units — a successful instance of less is more. The retelling of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, or "Der Ring des Nibelungen," is an epic tale for a parade, and Royal Artists furnished the krewe with beautiful floats, highlighted by the golden female figure on "The Rhinegold" float, Wotan the one-eyed king of the gods on "The Dawn of Valhalla," and the Valkyries on "The Flight of the Valkyries." Painting was vibrant and detailed, and there were nice sculptural elements including shields and flags. Rex Duke hoped one of the marching bands would perform Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyries," but, alas, it was not to be.
Century club. The Krewe of Iris celebrated its centennial with a theme invoking wonder and nostalgia in its look at parades past. Floats included "When You Wish Upon a Star," "Wonderful World of Make Believe" and "For the Young at Heart," and others celebrated diversions, such as "Champagne Flight to Europe" and a Las Vegas float with riders costumed as Elvis.
Royal wedding? When the Krewe of Freret stopped to greet spectators at Gallier Hall, its king, Mark Gall, instead addressed his queen. He asked Ariel Van Doren to marry him. She said yes. All hail the royal couple!
Parade with a message. The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club dedicated its parade to a message: "Stop the Violence." The group embraced the theme after several members lost children to violence in 2016. Queen Donna Glapion and King Adonis Expose both touched on the issue when addressing Mayor Mitch Landrieu at Gallier Hall. The group will donate funds generated from sales of the parade poster to Crimestoppers.
Carnival excess. Rex's theme celebrating Carnival events around the world was one of the krewe's typically colorful processions illuminating history and culture across the globe. Floats featured many wonderfully sculpted figures, including the bell-ringing bovine creature representing Mobile's Cowbellions and the German Seine Tollitat figure. The clown Burlamacco represented Carnival in the Italian city of Viareggio. Jonathan Bertuccelli, from a renowned floatmaking family in Viareggio, created the figure on Rex's signature Butterfly King float.
All that jazz. In the Krewe du Vieux parade, SPANK satirized the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival as "The N'awlins Cash & Shelling Out Our Heritage Festival," and throws included a schedule of "cubes" that included "The Jindal Shell Game Experience," "The Quint Davis Ego Explosion" and "Mike Yenni and the New Orleans Boys Choir." The sides of the float were covered in what looked like dead sod littered with lone flip-flops, crushed beer cans and other trash.
Born to ride. The Krewe of King Arthur celebrated its 40th anniversary. The parade used many quotes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail as float titles, and floats mostly recalled news and popular culture from 1977 (such as disco, Star Wars, etc.), when the krewe was founded. But one float illustrated how much has changed in 40 years. A tandem float included an image of Anita Bryant, who infamously opposed gay rights in 1977, as well as an image of Lady Gaga, known for messages of acceptance. The captain notes that the idea of King Arthur's round table is that everyone is equal.
Leader of the pack. St. Augustine High School's Marching 100 band occupies the leadoff spot in many parades and sets a high standard among area bands. It also inspired tribute this year. The Barkus parade featured the canine St. Pawgustine's band, costumed in purple and gold, and many of the dogs had instruments as part of their costumes.
Royal flush. Purple, green and gold toilet paper, glittered plungers and poo emoji plush toys can only mean one thing: The Krewe of Tucks parade has arrived. The "Tucks Happens" theme reveled in potty humor. Floats referenced local landmarks and scatological topics. Riders dressed as ninjas on the "Silent but Deadly" float. The "Origin of Feces" float featured cavemen and food.
Street gang. The satirical Knights of Chaos had a wonderfully wicked scheme in its "Chaos in the Streets" theme. It cleverly matched local street names to scandals and infamy. Yenni's texting scandal was placed on "Desire Street" and Irvin Mayfield's transfer of New Orleans Public Library Foundation money to the Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market was lampooned on "Music Street." The parade also included a sweet homage to Pete Fountain. Other floats, such as "Division Street," seemed to rehash partisan political ugliness without trying to land a joke.
Participation trophy winner. The Mystic Krewe of Druids theme of "Druids Olympics" got off to a good start with floats about local subjects, including a crime camera dash and the "SWB discus" featuring New Orleans' iconic water meter plates. The krewe's "De-Caitlyn-thon" float featuring a bent Christ-like figure wasn't a clever float idea as much as a rehash of transphobic jokes other krewes presented last year. The krewe also continued its griping about the group following it on the parade route, the Krewe of Nyx. Druids' final float title was, "Seriously, the parade behind us is not worth the wait." As Rex Duke™ likes to remind one and all, in the words of my late 9th Ward grandma, "Gawd don't like ugly."
What goes with this? The Krewe of Nyx has grown quickly in recent years. It listed 2,900 riders and 42 floats for its parade. While many of the floats featured bands (ABBA), performers (Lady Gaga) and dance steps (the hustle, Cupid shuffle, electric slide), there was an odd mismatching of tandem floats. There was a long float with "Studio 54" painted on the side, but a smaller trailer painted with "Studio 54" in the same color and design was attached to a different theme float.
Encore performances. The Krewe of Hermes presented many beautiful floats in its "Hermes Miscellany," though they were part of a theme recalling recent highlights. Several floats came from last year's salute to Shakespeare and The Tempest. Floats included the coral and jewel covered skull on "Full Fathoms Five" and the shipwreck on "The Tempest." Other notable sights included the "Salome" float with the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter, the fallen figure on "Paradise Lost" and figures of ancient Egyptian gods.
Something's cooking. Thoth notched its 70th anniversary with a parade celebrating food, a failsafe choice for local audiences. Floats depicted everything from "Wine and Cheese" to pizza and french fries to local crabs. Chef Donald Link served as grand marshal, and many krewe members wore chef's hats.
Celebrity sightings. The NBA All-Star Game was played in the Smoothie King Center Feb. 19, and mothers of players in the league rode as guests in the Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale parade. A couple of New Orleans Pelicans, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, grabbed headlines when they rode in the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club parade. Cousins also noted in the press that Mardi Gras was celebrated in his native Mobile, Alabama before New Orleans. Other celebrity riders included comedian Will Forte and rock star Bret Michaels in Orpheus, actor Jim Caviezel as Bacchus, news anchor Tamron Hall as the honorary Muse in the Muses' shoe float and Treme star Lance Nichols in N.O.M.T.O.C.
Horse sense. Many parades feature horse riding groups or mounted officers. Some riding groups are followed by someone pushing a wheelbarrow to clean up after the horses (one barrow was labeled "Secret ingredient in New Orleans gumbo"). But some riding groups made no such effort. Notably, the marching lines in several bands in the N.O.M.T.O.C. parade had to weave to avoid piles of waste left in the streets. That's not fair to the kids who work hard to entertain the crowds.
Choose Life. Adult dancing and parading groups have proliferated in recent years. There are now The Pussyfooters, Bearded Oysters, 610 Stompers, Organ Grinders, Sirens, Muff-A-Lottas and many others. The Laissez Boys ride motorized reclining chairs. Krewes have introduced their own groups, such as the Nola Nyxettes. The Krewe of Athena's Fancy Fedoras missed a chance to debut with their own krewe when the parade was postponed due to heavy rains. One of the more amusing units this year was the Dead Rock Stars. Many men dressed as Wham!-era George Michael in "Choose Life" T-shirts, and a man identified by a sign as Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley rode with the group.
Veteran riders. The Krewe of Alla stopped being an all-male krewe as it built a relationship with the Legion of Mars, welcoming many armed forces veterans as riders. The krewe's theme was "Through the Eyes of a Child," but there were distinct patriotic notes in the procession. Riders on many floats tossed beads with Legion of Mars marked on them. A couple of theme floats also crossed into military themes, such as the game "Battleship" and one titled "Playing War" with "US Army" painted on the front.
Galactic senate. The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus' Revel Alliance parade featured group and individual costumes referencing a litany of science fiction and popular culture topics. Many participants focused on characters from the first three Star Wars movies — and everything from a wagon to a convertible were disguised as vehicles from the film. But the pleasure of the parade is in the mashup of Carnival and popular entertainment, as with the marching Leijorettes, the Death Star Steppers and the Krewe le Bon Tauntaun Roule (featuring the snow lizards from the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back). Their parade featured everything from space Vikings to a legion of Wonder Women and Sharknado and Ziggy Stardust tributes. Indeed, the force is strong with this krewe.
And that, loyal subjects, closes out Carnival 2017. Until next year, I bid you adieu!