And what a season it was! For the first time in memory, Your Humble Scribe was able to review all the parades in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes -- East Bank and West -- and what a delightful task it was!
Such a pity, then, that in the year in which I finally conquered my logistical demons, so many krewes seemed to be plagued by logistical and mechanical demons of their own (though not necessarily of their own making). Imagine my horror at seeing one of the early floats in Rex stranded at St. Charles and Napoleon (Oh, the indignity!) as welders broke out a blowtorch to help get it moving again. Then there were all those lighting problems on floats of one of my favorite satirical krewes, Le Krewe d'Etat, while one evening prior, an entire float of distaff dissers in Muses got sidelined by a flat tire!
Ah, well, enough other things went as planned this season. Best of all, you, my loyal subjects, returned in full force, braving the chilly temperatures and winds to see the Greatest Free Show on Earth. And so, before I put aside my mask and headdress, my satin riding (and writing) attire and my handmade leather boots for another year, and with the somber cross of ashes spread across my forehead, I sally forth one last time to reflect on the sensuous season that was before entering this most solemn of seasons. Below you will find my critiques, with ratings given in the form of crowns -- progressively, one through five.
One note on the ratings: last year I took a break from my crown-based ratings because I felt that it was too soon to rate parades when so many krewes endured Katrina's wrath. This year, of course, I return to form -- except that I am not giving an award for "most improved krewe" because that would require a pre-K comparison. That category will return next year.
And so, until next year, adieu!
Parade Season Highlights
Best Overall Parade: Hermes
Best Day Parade: Thoth
Best Night Parade: Hermes
Best Suburban Parade: Caesar
Best Super Krewe: (Tie) Orpheus & Bacchus
Favorite Themes: "Tales of Transformation" (Orpheus), "The Lunar Realm" (Rex), "KDTV" (Le Krewe d'Etat), "Night at the Movies" (Caesar), "Endangered and Extinct Species" (Endymion), "Visions of Valhalla" (Hermes), "1421: The Chinese Expedition" (Babylon) Rex Duke's Ratings
-- Excellent, sets a new Carnival standard
-- Very good to outstanding
I hate to be critical on a sunny, festive afternoon on the West Bank, but I did find the Mystic Knights of Adonis to be lacking in marching bands. That said, the large crowd appreciated the dance teams and being pelted with beads, stuffed animals, toys, cups and the krewe's new foot-long stuffed Adonis dolls. The theme, "Dat '70s Sheaux Starring Adonis," was cleverly if a bit loosely represented in 18 floats -- one of which I saw as a werewolf in other West Bank parades, transformed into "Adonis Meets Wolfman Jack" for this one.
For its 75th anniversary, Alla opted to celebrate itself and its diamond jubilee, so the floats depicted memorable themes from years past. My favorites included 2000's "It's All Greek to Me" and 1985's "Beauty and the Beast." Costumes were pretty but not always float-specific -- and some riders committed the mortal sin of removing their masks. Kudos for more than a dozen marching bands and riders who threw generously. Alla also lost points for starting late.
The marching bands were the highlight of this year's parade, which carried the theme "Druids Floats" with mixed results. "Strawberry Floats" and "High Falloatin'" were appealing and clever, but "My Car Don't Float" (featuring a race car?) missed the mark. In addition, riders on the final float tossed Krewe of Saturn trinkets. Generally, the theme could have been more cleverly executed. I confess I did like the Valentine's Day motif as expressed in riders' velvety red costumes.
This Metairie krewe presented a fun "Fright Night" theme for its Friday evening procession, and I thought it was one of the most original of the season. Even the maids' floats conveyed the "scary" motif -- "Carrie" and "Leprechaun" among them. Aquila has a special crew of volunteers that spend a year making individual costumes, and it pays off when riders don float-specific apparel. Throws were plentiful but not necessarily original, and a relative dearth of bands hurt this otherwise fine krewe's rating.
Metairie's only Fat Tuesday parade brought out former Saints QB (and now radio sports commentator) Bobby Hebert along with former Saints John Fourcade, Steve Korte and Rich Mauti. They joined current Saints star Kevin Houser and the ever-popular Saintsations. Parading behind the theme, "Buddy Stall's Louisiana," Argus featured feathered maids and floats with titles such as a "Three-Eyed Green Monster," "Harry Lee-siana" and "Riverboat" -- the latter being among my favorites. My primary beef with Argus is commercialization. If you want to see what corporate (and political) sponsorship looks like, just catch Argus.
The Knights of Babylon once again staged a punctual, well-organized parade with almost no gaps between floats. "1421 -- The Chinese Expedition" provided a unique theme that was generally well executed by the 20 floats, although I didn't like the break in thematic sequence for Vince Vance on float 16. My disappointment quickly dissipated, however, with the smoke-breathing dragon atop float 17 ("Return to Chin"). Babylon also gets points for riders wearing float-specific costumes. Another disappointment, however, was the sight of too many riders who removed their masks -- a huge no-no in Rex's book of Chinese wisdom! Other areas that could be improved include marching bands (not enough), throws (the same old, same old), and too few flambeaux. Finally, many kudos to Sargon (monarch of Babylon) for his traditional mule-drawn float!
While perhaps not the most original theme, Bacchus did an outstanding job of using kids movies ("Through the Eyes of a Child") to turn this super krewe's already grand 28 floats into larger-than-life depictions of animated characters. My favorites included "Monsters, Inc.," "Finding Nemo," "Chicken Run" and "Ice Age." And, of course, the signature floats -- King Kong, Queen Kong and Baby Kong -- are perennial crowd pleasers. True to its super krewe status, Bacchus featured a ton of bands (O. Perry Walker's band stood out as a crowd favorite for its amazing rendition of Outkast's "Morris Brown") and a great celebrity monarch, actor James Gandolfini (who donned a hat from his hit show, The Sopranos). Saints QB Drew Brees and wife Brittany were also popular celebrity riders. Best of all, Bacchus set new standards on several fronts this year: the lighted costumes of many riders takes the artistic interpretation of a theme to new heights; and individual float-themed beads, while not entirely a new idea, were done exceptionally well by this krewe. And, of course, Bacchus members are sooo generous with their throws! This year, Bacchus had it all -- a great theme that was beautifully executed on many floats, lots of excellent bands, fabulous costumes and tons of great throws. Truly, my bacchanalian cup runneth over!
Metairie's largest krewe is always a spectacle, and this year's parade, with its "Night at the Movies" theme, did not disappoint. Caesar's nearly 30 floats and at least 20 marching bands (plus dance troupes) made this parade a sight -- and a sound -- to behold, and it's such a treat to see a suburban parade that produces new floats every year! My personal favorites were those depicting Spiderman, Batman, Over the Hedge and Harry Potter. Riders' costumes were outstanding and float specific, and I loved the lit-up headdresses. Throws were plentiful, but not original or groundbreaking. Still, Caesar continues to rule the continent among suburban krewes -- and this year's parade was an excellent example why that's so.
One of New Orleans' oldest neighborhood krewes used a tried-and-true theme ("Celebrate Good Times") that provided less than spectacular opportunities for originality. Carrollton's costumes looked new and showed off beautifully, however, and the bands for this afternoon parade are always a treat. I particularly liked McDonogh 35 and St. Paul's. Carrollton also gets points for putting its officers on horseback.
This is a quintessential suburban krewe, featuring lots of throws, energetic riders and excellent local marching bands. Sporting as its theme, "Under the Big Top," Centurions offered a cavalcade of circus-oriented floats such as "Concessions" and "Circus Train" (the latter a double-decker). As Jefferson Parish builds on its wonderful new "Family Gras" celebration, Centurions is sure to be a centerpiece.
This irreverent bunch, many of them from the old-line Krewe of Momus, doesn't mind pushing the bounds of taste -- and this year proved no exception with its theme of "Chaos Breaks Wind." It was a pun on several levels, with Katrina-related floats and, well, I'll let some of the float titles speak for themselves: "Don't Blame Me" (official finger pointing); "Who Cut the Cheese" (public contract fraud); "(Not) Silent, But Deadly" (Mayor Nagin's outbursts); and "Can't Cut It" (DA Eddie Jordan). Floats were well designed and generally kept to the theme. Among the few shortcomings: very few marching bands and I didn't see anything really original amid the throws -- but they were, as always, plentiful. A big plus for this traditional krewe: lots of flambeaux.
"Horror Movies" was the theme of Carnival's last procession, although I doubt it was intended as a Katrina reference! The 25 floats included "Pet Cemetery," "Grim Reaper" and "Creature from the Black Lagoon." Sadly, there were no bands in this parade, and that really bums Rex Duke out! Oh, well, it leaves Choctaw room to grow next year.
This West Bank ladies krewe bridges Algiers and Gretna, crossing parish lines again this year with 19 floats behind the theme "Cleopatra Paints the Town Red." Among my favorite floats were "Red Devils" (with Satan and his pitchfork, and horned riders) and "Roll Out the Red Carpet," which featured a movie premier motif. Most riders wore float-specific costumes and throws were bountiful. I also enjoyed the many marching bands, some from outlying parishes such as Lafourche and Donaldsonville.
Always one of Carnival's most anticipated (and fun) parades -- no matter what its route -- Endymion presented "Endangered and Extinct Species" as its theme this year, with 37 floats in tow. I always love this super krewe, but I confess I was a tad disappointed this year that many of the floats seemed to pay lip service to the theme -- putting an animal up front with the back half of the floats looking undistinguished and generally not following through on the theme. That's a shame, because I truly loved this year's theme -- and Endymion isn't known for cutting corners. I liked that riders were in float-specific costumes, and I doubt any krewe throws more than this one, which is why it's always a crowd favorite. This year saw lots of original and theme-specific throws as well -- stuffed animals, a whale, a shrimp and a monkey among them. I also love the Clydesdales and the steam calliope band. Like the captain and the krewe, I can't wait for this spectacle to return to Mid-City!
"A Haunted Knight" provided a wonderfully original theme for this year's parade, with floats depicting Halloween and Medieval characters. Frankenstein, Dracula and the Grim Reaper were among the most memorable, and the headpieces for the Frankenstein float were among my favorites. (I give extra points when costumes are float specific.) This Metairie krewe also made good use of suburban high school bands -- Independence High's band was a crowd favorite for incorporating dance routines into the music. Next year, I hope to see more throws.
This suburban krewe celebrates its Gretna heritage and "60 Years of Mardi Gras" this year with 22 floats that were pretty if not entirely original in concept -- but that's always the case when krewes use their own history for a theme. At least the costumes were float specific, which I appreciate, and I loved the 1978 "Oriental Travels" float with the snake charmer and cobra. Riders also were generous with throws (as always), and I like the suburban krewes' practice of letting younger folks ride -- it adds to the family atmosphere of Mardi Gras.
Hermes strives to set new standards for artistry and originality while adhering to old-school traditions, and this year it succeeded as never before. Under the mythological theme of "Visions of Valhalla," the Knights of Hermes offered 28 stunning floats that featured unique designs and color-coordinated riders' costumes -- all of which conveyed this year's theme in "chapters." Floats were illuminated with traditional flambeaux as well as with Hermes' signature neon lighting, which the krewe first introduced to Mardi Gras in 1938. My personal favorite was the Fire Dragon, but almost any of this year's floats could be considered a modern classic. More than a dozen top-tier marching bands, including those from Southern University, Rabouin, Holy Cross, Xavier Prep, West St. John and other high schools gave the crowds lots to cheer about. Riders kept their masks on and threw very generously for a traditional krewe, but I spent most of my time admiring the artistry of these beautiful floats. Congratulations, Hermes, on being the Best Night Parade and the Best Overall Parade!
Somebody must have minted circus-themed floats this year as Iris was yet another krewe to use "Under the Big Top" as its theme. Still, costumes were float specific, and riders in traditional white lace masks threw lots of trinkets. I also appreciated the number of marching bands (including one of kilted pipers) on a day when they were in such high demand. Carnival's oldest women's krewe continues to represent itself well and throw generously -- but Iris got a really late start this year and held up other parades.
Isis' 35th anniversary parade featured "Memories Are Forever" as its theme, and the Metairie krewe featured 21 floats that reflected past themes -- which means it was difficult to find a common thread. Riders braved chilly temperatures and threw generously (I appreciated the bags of Chee Wees), but Isis included only a few bands. That said, I loved the drumline from Ponchatoula High and Rummel's brass section.
King Arthur celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, but, alas, its procession was not much of a milestone. The floats seemed in poor condition, and the costumes were colorful but not memorable. Riders were generous with throws, but a dearth of marching bands hurt Arthur's procession this year.
KNIGHTS OF JASON
With a theme of "What Do You Like to Do?" this krewe's floats could go just about anywhere -- and they did. "Bet on the Ponies" was among my personal favorites, as were "Drive a Race Car" and "Have an Ice-Cold Beer." Way too few bands and only 14 floats rendered this a less-than-spectacular spectacle, however.
LE KREWE D'ETAT
Launched in 1997, yet fiercely traditional with its officers on horseback, abundant flambeaux, more than 15 marching bands (including St. Aug and several military bands) and annual Bulletin, this krewe sets the standard for executing satirical themes. Once again, d'Etat was hilarious, with its "KDTV" riff on the growing popularity of HDTV -- and a bulletin parody of TV Guide. No one was spared Le Krewe's barbs. Mayor Nagin was "Ameri-con Idle," resting in his "Big Easy Chair." Former sportscaster and radio personality Vince Marinello starred in "Murder, He Wrote" and was lampooned in the krewe's annual spoof of marching troupes (another d'Etat original) -- The Dancing Marinellos. I thought d'Etat nailed "Dollar Bill" Jefferson best of all with "I Wants to Be A Millionaire." D'Etat also started the blinky bead craze several years back and this year saw another "first" in the form of a soft-gel, blinking "High Priest" throw. The parade's only shortcoming was a Blaine Kern Artists snafu that prevented more than half the floats from being lit up, but the crowd didn't seem to mind.
Perhaps the most family-oriented of all the older Mardi Gras parades, Mid-City also distinguishes itself by its use of aluminum foil instead of papier mach. Mid-City was also the first krewe to use moving parts on its floats. Alas, Hurricane Katrina hit this krewe hard, and its membership has dipped below 200. Still, the maids' floats were stunning and this year's theme -- "Foilicious" -- celebrated what's best about this great neighborhood krewe.
Another krewe with a circus theme ("Dreams of Carnivale"), Morpheus brought forth 15 floats that included the Strong Man, the Lion Tamer, the Bearded Lady, but most of the costumes were fairly simple -- although some, like the Bearded Lady riders, were very float- specific in their costumes. More than a dozen bands complemented the circus atmosphere, and I loved the light-up moon throw. I would have liked to see riders throwing more generously, however.
Muses' riders generously tossed some of Carnival's most original throws -- bedazzled high heels, pink satin sleep masks, plush spears, light-up snap bracelets, a Muses coloring book and more. And, as usual, the Pink Slip Girls showed off the season's edgiest marching troupes -- the Pussyfooters, the Bearded Oysters and the Cameltoe Steppers. I also loved the walking puppeteers carrying poles dangling huge, neon-lit butterflies and shoes. This year's theme, "Supermuses," was a perfect platform for the krewe's irreverent satire, which was driven home by an impressively written and illustrated Supermuses comic book -- by far the most memorable throw, with serious collector's-item potential -- which further developed the various "villains" portrayed on the floats. The last float, "Sirens," brought an inspiring call for hope: "You have the power to save New Orleans." Muses only problem this year was the gaps (some of them a block long) between several of the floats. I also wish Muses wouldn't be so "wordy" in conveying its satire (the sides of floats are hard to read in the crush of viewing and reviewing); this krewe is certainly artistic enough to illustrate its themes on the more visible parts of the floats. But, all in all, another spectacular show.
I may never go to the circus again! Never the less, I must say that Napoleon did a superb job of turning this year's well-worn theme into a fine parade. Floats were well-lit (a problem for some krewes this year) and some were horse-drawn -- a fine traditional touch for a suburban parade! The "Waterloo" float was gorgeous. There were only five bands, but they included the outstanding Southern University band, plus eight wonderful dance troupes, and throws were plentiful.
The season's only St. Bernard krewe gets extra points for overcoming severe hardships in the wake of Katrina. Nemesis doesn't put forth a theme, which disappoints traditionalists like me, but it does showcase hometown favorites like former Saint Bobby Hebert, who rode as grand marshal. The 22 floats had a homespun appeal, but riders were maskless. The sole marching band was, of course, from Chalmette High, and it was certainly a crowd favorite. Perhaps the best feature was the crowd -- many former St. Bernard residents returned from the Northshore, Baton Rouge and beyond to reconnect with friends, family and traditions.
This West Bank krewe presented its theme of "Monster Bash" ahead of 18 floats with names like "The Mummy," "Evil Insects" and "The Alien." Costumes matched the floats, and my favorite was "Frankenstein" -- the women streaked their hair with white stripes for the "bridal" effect while the men wore Frankenstein masks. Throws were varied and plentiful, and the procession stayed together well.
The "Children's Stories" theme is oft used, so floats have to be really good to distinguish a parade using that motif. I like the "Fred Flintstone" and "Wizard of Oz" floats best. The Chappelle High dance troupe got rave reviews from the crowd, and the Riverside Academy band got everyone in my party dancing. I also liked the variety offered by the Cajun Indian horseback riders. Okeanos suffered from several breaks between floats -- particularly a long one between floats 8 and 9.
I must say, for a traditionalist, I do love those Saints. So, when Coach Sean Payton handed me an autographed cup of beer, well, I just had to partake of something I usually consider beneath my dignity and say, "Who dat!" I also loved seeing favorite son Harry Connick Jr. on his traditional perch at the head of the super krewe he founded, followed by my favorite actress -- New Orleans' own Patricia Clarkson -- as grand marshal. Orpheus' theme of "Tales of Transformation" was beautifully executed on several dozen floats and held a timely message for a city in transformation post-Katrina. My favorites (and there were many) included the "Trojan Horse," which rolls every year, and "Daphne, the Laurel Tree." All the floats were very ornate, and the 30 or so bands were simply outstanding -- all the great local bands, plus some terrific out-of-staters. Orpheus also tossed lots of original novelty beads, and the jester hats and boas were crowd favorites. My personal favorite was a beaded wand. Another mark of distinction was the red-costumed flambeaux -- a first!
This little krewe seems to struggle year after year. Oshun's theme, "The Second Time Around" was original enough in concept but not well executed on floats that tended to be boxy and not very elaborate. One of the few exceptions was the "Blue Moon" float, which had riders in costumes that matched the float's decor. The Warren Easton High School band also looked sharp, as did the band from perennial favorite St. Mary's Academy.
What a shame that Pegasus' 50th anniversary wasn't a better year for this fine krewe. "Mirror of Time" seemed more like a convenient way to use ideas from years past than an original theme. One float (#6) was missing, and several had no lights. The Pan float was the best of the evening as Pan's eyes lit up on a double-decker float. I also liked the Dragons float, the last of the parade. Pegasus lost points for too many riders removing their masks and for too many long breaks between some floats. Highlights were the plethora of bands and the pleather Pegasus throws.
One of Carnival's smaller krewes, Pontchartrain's theme of "Can You Complete This Saying or Jingle" was a good concept that was executed mostly by use of cartoons and games -- The Flintstones, Sylvester and Tweetie Bird, and the Monopoly Millionaire character. Unfortunately, few if any of the costumes were float specific. Throws were plentiful and shiny and Xavier Prep's band is always a crowd pleaser. (Next year I'd like to see more than just one or two bands, however.) Pontchartrain didn't reach for the stars, but krewe members did a fine job of executing a catchy theme.
The second-oldest New Orleans krewe, Proteus stuck to its aquatic-mythological roots and presented "Legends and Lore of the Deep" for its Lundi Gras procession of 20 floats. The wooden wheels on Proteus' old wagons make every float shake and shimmer in the glow of flambeaux, adding to the superb artistry of this year's parade. Costumes were float specific yet traditional in style, and the 15 bands (including many from out of town) provided musical accompaniment to the krewe's originality. I also appreciated the red beads with the light-up silver seahorse; it's good to see a traditional krewe including some modern touches. Now, if we could just get the riders to break with Proteus tradition and stop being so stingy with their throws!
Pygmalion's 15 floats did a good job conveying the "Mystical Journey" theme. The sculptures mounted on front of the floats were consistently of high quality -- the Minotaur, Gryphons, Unicorns and Medusa among them -- and costumes were float specific. Pygmalion had only three marching bands, but they were all very good -- McDonogh 35, John McDonogh and Chalmette high schools. Throws were abundant but not unique.
Alas, the king of Carnival was held up by one of his own floats this year (instead of having to slow down for Zulu to pass). At St. Charles and Napoleon avenues, workers actually had to break out a welding torch to repair one of Rex's early floats, causing at least a half-hour or longer delay. Once rolling, Rex's theme of "The Lunar Realm" included a tribute to the "Crescent" City as well as lunar references from various cultures and sources (song, literature, etc.). One of the hallmarks of Rex is outstanding marching bands, and this year's procession lived up that billing -- St. Aug, McDonogh 35 and the Army band were among my favorites. My only complaints were the early delay and some riders' stinginess with throws.
This Metairie afternoon krewe offered 19 floats under the theme, "They All Asked for You." Unfortunately, the floats appeared to be recycled from other parades, and costumes were not float specific. The marching bands were excellent, however, particularly those from Independence High and Riverdale High. I'd like to see more originality -- and more throws!
This krewe's "Renaissance of New Orleans" theme was locally patriotic but not necessarily original. The signature captain's and royalty floats were distinctive, and most riders' costumes matched their floats and the krewe's theme. My favorites were Angelo Brocato's (riders as chefs) and Charity Hospital (nice touch with the Daughters of Charity nuns). This krewe gets extra points for lots of high school bands, including the ever-popular St. Aug band and the first-ever march by the Rabouin High School band. It also was fun to see Chris Owens as grand marshal -- then a float bearing a massive likeness of her. One drawback: way too many floats for royalty and guests, and not enough for conveying the theme.
Sparta's "By the Gods" theme offered a tableau of multiple mythologies and some excellent marching bands, including that of Southern University. Unfortunately, the lights on several floats were not on, and there were too many long gaps between some of the floats. Highlights included real glass beads and beanie babies throws, the Vampire Girl float, and riders who threw plenty of trinkets.
The Norse god of thunder and rain caught a break from the New Orleans weather this year and was able to show off its 18 well-lit floats behind the "Circus World" theme. Among my favorites were "Master Juggler," "Snake Charmer," "The Kissing Booth" and "Tightrope Walker." East Jefferson High's marching band was the only one in this parade, I'm sorry to say, but there were seven dance troupes -- and riders threw generously.
This wonderful Uptown krewe's 60th procession carried "We the People" as its theme and offered floats celebrating the Boston Tea Party, Ellis Island and the Battle of New Orleans, among many others. I also enjoyed the "Delacroix Island" float, which has become one of Thoth's signature floats. The krewe of 1,200 men on 40 floats threw generously and had as many bands as any of the super krewes. This is a perennial crowd favorite -- and for good reason.
"Tucks Knows What It Means to Miss New Orleans" offered lots of opportunities as a theme, but some of the 26 floats didn't really keep to the script. Nonetheless, I still love the signature float with its toilet motif (a throwback to the early days when Tucks was a Loyola frat-house upstart) and the satirical "Bendova Construction Co." float. Lots of bands from the city and suburban parishes, and a good variety of throws made Tucks once again a must-see parade on Mardi Gras weekend.
For its silver anniversary parade, Zeus wisely opted not to salute itself but instead to salute America and its history with a theme of "This is My Country." Float titles included "Gettysburg," "Ellis Island," "Prohibition" and "San Francisco." I like the Statue of Liberty holding a glowing torch on the Ellis Island float, and the can of Zeus Beer on the Prohibition entry. Best costumes were those on the "Indian Wars" float, but Zeus had a relative dearth of marching bands. Riders were generous with throws, however, and the appreciative crowd picked up their enthusiasm.
I was elated to see this wonderfully irreverent and fun-loving krewe bounce back so strongly after Katrina. This year's theme, "Zulu Warriors," was more of a rallying point than a consistently applied theme, but with Zulu there are no rules. Zulu's 50-odd floats (between the court and krewe members) were brightly colored, and the riders donned their traditional black-face (with white eye and mouth patches), Afro wigs and grass skirts to hand out Carnival's most sought-after memento -- a Zulu coconut. There seemed to be more coconuts than in past years, and that was a real treat. I also loved seeing marching bands from Morehouse College and Southern University; both were awesome. Zulu is always a spectacle, and crowds that were often 12 or more deep began gathering before daybreak to get a good spot -- and it was worth it! Until next year, adieu!