25 Years Wasted
6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19
French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny
Don Marshall is honored. Really, he is.
The director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, former director of the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) and co-founder of the New Orleans Film Festival and Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival will add another title to his resume Saturday: King of Krewe du Vieux.
"It'll be unique riding on a float, throwing cups with my image on it — of me reclining half out of an overturned garbage container," he says. "It's bizarre."
Marshall will preside over the risque krewe's "25 Years Wasted" parade, commemorating its silver anniversary. While he has been associated with a long list of New Orleans cultural institutions, he also is an appropriate choice for the parade. Marshall founded both the original Krewe du Vieux parade and its predecessor, the Krewe of Clones, which was based out at the CAC.
Marshall created the first Krewe du Vieux Carre parade in 1987 when he was the director of Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre. It was a new event reviving old traditions. Mardi Gras parades had been banned from the French Quarter, but by moving the date up to before the start of the city's official Carnival calendar, he was able to engineer a Mardi Gras-style parade through the historic district. It was a purely pedestrian affair — mule-drawn floats came later — and featured a host of actors costumed for Valentine's Day, which was the day of the parade. It also featured brass bands, an element that has remained constant.
The parade also is known for satire and pushing the bounds of bawdy humor. The mother krewe is comprises 17 sub-krewes, including Mama Roux, Seeds of Decline, L.E.W.D., C.R.U.D.E., T.O.K.I.N., The Krewe of Underwear, Krewe of Drips and Discharges and the Mystic Krewe of Spermes (full disclosure: I am a member). Sub-krewes tend to have their favored targets and themes for floats, and the 2011 parade reflects the variety.
"There's lots of wonderful satire," says krewe captain Lee Mullikin, who has authored a book about the group's history. "There are some BP oil floats, politics, there's 'The Running of the Bull Shit,' and 'David Semen's Treme.'"
The most outrageous parades, such as the 2005 theme devoted to religious topics, or sacrilege, depending on your point of view, provoked protests and angry letters to local papers. In other years, satire directed at unpopular groups and individuals made the parade a standard-bearer for populist outrage. The 2006 "C'est Levee" theme about the various failings of FEMA and Hurricane Katrina issues famously included a sad-faced French mime under the sign "Buy us back, Chirac."
"[That parade] was the most visceral, the most emotional, the most cathartic," Mullikin says. "Because so many of us were rebuilding, we'll never forget that parade."
Marshall delicately sidesteps some of the raunchiness of the group's reputation as he prepares to rule over the procession.
"This is an honor to follow in the footsteps of (past kings) Ernie K-Doe and Dr. John," he says. "That's what's unique about New Orleans culture. There are no boundaries."
Visit www.kreweduvieux.org for a parade route and additional information.