ARTHUR HARDY'S 2015 CARNIVAL SEASON REVIEW
Posted: February 22, 2015
So what kind of Carnival season was it?
For the most part, it was a wonderful one.
Membership is up in most clubs and some are setting records, with Endymion cracking the 3,000-member mark, while also selling out all 20,000 tickets to its post-parade Extravaganza at the Superdome. And its new E-TV float was well received. The greatest growth in participation is in the female clubs. The nine major, women-only krewes in Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Tammany account for 5,800 members.
Most parade captains in Orleans Parish report near-record crowds, as did the Captain of Metairie's Caesar parade and the Captain of the Selene parade in Slidell.
The new female African-American parading clubs of Femme Fatale in New Orleans and Athena in Metairie were well received. Femme Fatale, however, experienced problems beyond its control. Hardly anyone was left on the street to see their inaugural parade, which was supposed to be a day parade but became a nocturnal one. Rolling as the fourth parade of the day is quite a challenge when earlier parades have delays. If the City is going to schedule a quadruple-header, it must encourage all krewes to reduce the number of extraneous units in each parade.
Sadly, the Proteus and Orpheus parades on Lundi Gras got rained on. The heavy precipitation forecasted for Fat Tuesday did not come, although frigid weather did.
The predicted problems on Napoleon Avenue caused by on-going construction failed to materialize as people simply adjusted and enjoyed the parades from smaller spaces.
Hotel occupancy, including on the first weekend of the parade season, was up, as was the number of visitors in town.
RANDOM NEWS & OBSERVATIONS
Because of my television commitments, I do not get to see many parades in their entirety, so the following comments are based upon limited personal observations, news reports and firsthand accounts from trusted sources, including captains who responded to my request for comments on their parades and on the state of Carnival in general.
The roping-off of neutral ground space on St. Charles Avenue, Orleans Avenue, and portions of Canal Street is still a major issue. And now that ladders are being placed back six feet, people are putting chairs in front of them and blocking intersections. This is dangerous.
"Throw-Backs" continue to plague some of the larger parades on the second weekend.
"Flashing" along parade routes is a thing of the past. The taming down of this R-rated custom started post-Katrina and continues even in the French Quarter, this year in part due to the cold weather.
The Krewe of NOMTOC does not get the publicity it deserves, partially because its parade is scheduled on the same day as the mega-parades of Iris, Tucks, and Endymion. But NOMTOC presents the largest and arguably the best parade on the West Bank and has been a mainstay in Algiers since 1971.
The illegal use of under-age marchers in Carnival parades is a serious problem (see my earlier commentary posted February 9). A simple solution is to require an affidavit from the leader of each marching group swearing that no members under the required age of 12 will participate.
W. Boatner Reily III, businessman, civic leader and philanthropist who was a leader of the Rex organization for years, died Monday (Jan. 5) at his Garden District home. He was 86.
Costuming on Fat Tuesday was at an all-time low this year. Hopefully this was due to the cold weather and is not a new trend.
Attendance at the pre-season "alternative parades" of Krewe du Vieux, krewedelusion, Petit Rex, and Chewbacchus has exploded, as has media coverage of these processions. The Twelfth Night St. Joan of Arc parade also continues to draw huge crowds.
Much to the dismay of local manufacturers, individually wrapped doubloons made in China have penetrated the Mardi Gras market in a significant way this year with a half -dozen krewes now importing them.
The fly-over by antique airplanes releasing red, white, and blue smoke during the Alla/Legion of Mars parade was a nice touch.
The lack of City Council members present at Gallier Hall to toast the parades disappointed several captains in New Orleans.
King Arthur has the prettiest tractor signs in Carnival.
The double homicide on the night of the Muses parade was a tragedy but had little coverage in the national media and no apparent affect on tourism.
Rex's Lundi Gras arrival by train instead of by water was a big hit with the crowds at the Riverwalk Outlet Mall Spanish Plaza.
The biggest laugh I heard on Napoleon Avenue came in the Pontchartrain parade when the "Bayou Clydesdale" passed. This horse-drawn wagon featured icons from local breweries of the past, such as Dixie, Regal, Jax, and Falstaff.
The Mardi Gras-themed Verizon IndyCar Series "two-seater" racecar that appeared in the Bacchus parade was the talk of the crowd inside the Morial Convention Center where the parade ended and the Bacchus Rendezvous was held.
Proteus set a modern day record with two-dozen maids at its Carnival ball this year.
The death of float tractor driver 52-year-old Don Dauzat at the hands of an alleged drunk driver is mourned by the Carnival community.
New float providers for 2015 parades included Blaine Kern for Nemesis, Jack Rizzuto for Cleopatra, and Phil Fricano for NOMTOC.
The first annual "Carnival in the Square" free concert series across from Gallier Hall on the first weekend of the parades was a success considering the late start in launching and the lack of free publicity and paid advertising.
To keep the residents and visitors fully informed this Mardi Gras season, the City launched a "Mardi Gras Information and Updates" website at www.nola.gov/mardigras.
The Budweiser Clydesdales looked regal in the 50th annual appearance at Mardi Gras.
The Mardi Gras Indian community lost one of its most prominent members with the death of Chief Theodore "Bo" Dollis in January. A musical tribute was held to him at the Carver Theater on Friday, January 30.
Monster sound systems placed along parade routes, especially between Lee Circle and Gallier Hall, drown out the marching bands that pass. And some of the "music" played includes very offensive lyrics.
The city's oldest Gay club, the Krewe of Petronius canceled its ball this year but hopes to return in 2016.
The new lighting system on the Leviathan float in the Orpheus parade was impressive, even in the rain. The club featured more celebrities in the parade than ever and also employed a completely unique theme, "The Magic Of An Ordinary Day."
The slow down by dockworkers on the West Cast caused several krewes to receive their throws very late.
The Thoth parade has grown into the largest day parade in terms of total units, riders, and floats. Its unique route gives the Thoth parade the feel of by-gone days when most parades started in the neighborhood.
A close second to Thoth in all categories is the Krewe of Tucks, with a membership of more than 1,200 men and women. Tucks built 3 new signature floats and one new tandem float. The club also added four theme floats.
Oddest reaction I heard to the Rex parade: "I barely got to see the gorgeous floats because I was so busy trying to catch the float-specific plush pillows, cups, and medallion beads that depict these gorgeous floats!"
The honor afforded by Zulu to Dr. Norman Francis as Grand Marshal was well deserved and long overdue. The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club recently unveiled a landmark plaque in front of its headquarters on North Broad at Orleans, and presented a display of Zulu memorabilia at Lakeside Mall.
Tulane University's "Economic Impact of the 2014 Mardi Gras Season" report placed a value of $465,214,106 on the celebration in Orleans Parish.
Staged Mardi Gras scenes have appeared in recent commercials for Toyota Camry and Turbo Tax. Rex floats were featured in an episode of NCIS New Orleans that aired on Mardi Gras night. In a ridiculous scenario, an imprisoned convict explains that, while not a member of the organization, he had been asked to reign as Rex!
The 200-piece Talladega College Marching Tornado Band, which performed in several parades this year, featured nearly two-dozen brass sousaphones. I cannot remember ever seeing this large a contingent of lower brass in a Carnival parade. According to NOLA.com, "The Southern University and Talladega College marching bands faced off on the Sunday (Feb. 15) before Mardi Gras near the intersection of Napoleon Avenue and Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans, in advance of the Bacchus parade…" The impromptu contest was shut down by NOPD, apparently because of the large crowds and traffic congestion.
Le Krewe d'Etat is rightly proud of its new den and new signature floats. The taped telecast of its 2015 parade on WDSU-TV was the second highest rated show in its time slot.
This year there were some stories posted on-line and much conversation on the street that major float parades were now straying into a territory of inappropriate themes. The Krewe du Vieux can get away with sexual themes because its parade is not governed by the Mardi Gras Ordinance, but parades staged within 12 days before Fat Tuesday follow a different set of rules.
It seems strange to see float riders texting and taking selfies and pictures of the crowd. Imagine if NFL players did this during a football game. Float riders are the show; they are not observers.
JEFFERSON PARISH NEWS
With the departure of Zeus from the Metairie parade calendar, Jefferson Parish was without a parade on Fat Tuesday Eve for the first time in more than 40 years.
Family Gras may have set record attendance, in spite of the fact that Sunday's celebration was paradeless. Now that the Krewe of Atlas has gone out of business, Metairie has lost its four oldest clubs, which accounted for 177 years of parading tradition-Zeus (1958) Rhea (1969), Atlas (1970), and Thor (1975).
Jefferson Parish officials are to be commended for taking quick action this year when two truck float riders were caught smoking and brawling. Corps de Napoleon Captain Irvy Cosse also deserves praise for banning 23 members of his club from future parades because their float tossed drug-testing kits to the crowd this year.
It was an unfortunate and preventable accident when two riders in a Metairie truck parade fell off their floats on Fat Tuesday.
Jefferson Parish has added several concrete plaques to its Mardi Gras Plaza on Veterans Boulevard at Causeway. The circular display commemorates nearly four-dozen parading krewes of the past and present.
The 2nd annual Rhythm on the Route Band Contest was a huge success. (See results below.)
Full disclosure-I am on the payroll at WDSU TV and at the daily New Orleans Advocate. But both media outlets deserve praise for their commitment to Carnival coverage. WDSU broadcasted interviews with 48 parading krewe captains and provided Parade Tracker progress reports from every major parade in a four-parish area. The Advocate published my daily parade previews plus ten historical features on Carnival that I wrote. The paper also expanded its production of Carnival Bulletins, this year issuing papers for Alla, Babylon, Bacchus, Caesar, Chaos, d'Etat, Endymion, Hermes, Muses, Orpheus, Proteus, Rex, Tucks, and Zulu. Another media outlet that doesn't get enough credit is local PBS affiliate Channel 12. In addition to its annual telecast of the Rex ball and the "Meeting of the Courts," the station telecasts a series of programs on the history of Carnival.
Personal notes-I really enjoyed seeing friends as grand marshals-Jimmy Clark in Choctaw and Spud McConnell in King Arthur. And speaking of friends, it is my honor to acknowledge a long history with the kings of Comus (secret), Rex (Christy Brown), and Zulu (Pete Sanchez.) These gents deserved the honor and performed their royal duties impeccably.
It was touching to see a frail but smiling 84-year-old Pete Fountain wave during his ride aboard the streetcar float in his Half-Fast Walking Club parade on Fat Tuesday. And speaking of octogenarians, a spry 87-year-old Blaine Kern rode in the Kern van in several parades this year.
Within the next two years, Arthur Hardy Publishing will release three books chronicling the histories of the Krewes of Bacchus, d'Etat, and Iris.
2016 Mardi Gras
Fat Tuesday is early-February 9.
Will the "Original Orpheus" make a comeback in Mandeville? Will repairs to Gallier Hall be finalized to permit Mayoral toasts to return to the facility? Will the Municipal Auditorium be available for Mardi Gras balls?
OTHER MARDI GRAS NEWS
For the first time ever, the City of New Orleans issued a comprehensive report on the Carnival Season on Ash Wednesday!
Among the findings in a Press Release from the City are:
- During the 12-day period, NOPD put in a total of 58,090 manpower hours
- The NOPD made 443 arrests in the Eighth District and along the parade route.
- The New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) responded to 1,414 fire and medical calls for service The NOFD also inspected 34 parades, which included: 792 traditional floats, 175 truck floats and 312 parade flambeaux. The department also inspected 88 mobile food vendors for compliance.
- New Orleans EMS responded to 2,367 emergency service calls.
- NOHD assisted 138 people and provided care to 47 people during Mardi Gras, 22 of which were transported by EMS.
- The Department of Sanitation utilized 118 pieces of equipment and more than 600 City workers, temporary workers, and contract employees to clean up the streets and neutral grounds following parades each day.
- For the second consecutive year, the City used Mardi Gras cleanup to provide employment opportunities for ex-offenders and the chronically hard to employ. In 2014, the City made up to 50 cleanup jobs available for these groups per parade night. Based on the success of last year, the City tripled the program, making up to 150 jobs available per night during the 2015 Carnival season.
- The City placed 650 portable toilets along the parade routes for Mardi Gras this year.
- The City also issued close to 300 permits for reviewing stands, concessions, and parking.
- The City installed approximately 4,000 temporary No Parking signs.
- The City issued 22,475 citations, booted 553 vehicles and towed 799 vehicles on parade days.
- Over the Mardi Gras holiday, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport saw a six-year high number of passengers traveling through the airport. Over an eight day period beginning Friday, Feb. 13 through Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, the airport expected to have over 139,000 passengers depart, a 2.5 percent increase over 2014 and a 37 percent increase over 2010. Over 20,000 passengers were scheduled to depart New Orleans on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, as the Mardi Gras season comes to a close.
News Release from Jefferson Parish
Metairie, LA. - By all standards, the 2nd annual "Rhythm on the Route, Metairie's Battle of the Bands" was considered a success by parish officials and Carnival/tourism organizers as more bands were motivated to perform in Jefferson Parish parades for prize money and the distinction of being named the best.
This 2nd annual band contest coupled music and majesty again this year. Fontainebleau High School from Mandeville took the most prize money this carnival season. Fontainebleau's band was selected as the top band in the Krewe of Caesar parade and the top band in the Corps de Napoleon parade. The Bulldogs won a total of $6,000 for their musical and marching talents.
District 5 Councilmember Cynthia Lee-Sheng who created Rhythm on the Route added, "This marching band competition is improving our Carnival experience in Jefferson. More bands marching in each parade adds to the excitement of these spectacular shows. There is no question that this competition has hit a high note in our Carnival presentation." The contest is sponsored by Councilmember Lee-Sheng's office and managed by the Jefferson Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Friday 2/6/15 Parade: The Krewe of Excalibur
1st Brother Martin High School
2nd Donaldsonville High School
3rd Bonnabel High School
Friday 2/6/15 Parade: The Krewe of Athena
1st McDonough 35 Band
2nd West Jefferson High School
3rd Landry Walker Band
Saturday 2/7/15 Parade: The Krewe of Caesar
1st Fontainebleau High School
2nd Archbishop Rummel-Chapelle Marching Band
3rd Bonnabel High School
Friday 2/13/15 Parade: The Krewe of Centurions
1st Central Lafourche High School
2nd Archbishop Rummel High School
3rd Riverside High School
Saturday 2/14/15 Parade: The Krewe of Isis
1st Ponchatoula High School
2nd Belle Chasse Academy
3rd Grace King High School
Sunday 2/15/15 Parade: Corps de Napoleon
1st Fontainebleau High School
2nd Towers High School
3rd Bay High School
Tuesday 2/17/17 Parade: The Krewe of Argus
1st Band of Excellence
2nd East Jefferson High School