Hail, Loyal Subjects and Carnival devotees!
I, Rex Duke™, the world's first and foremost Mardi Gras parade critic, enjoy a surprise almost as much as I enjoy a prime parade-viewing spot. While a late Fat Tuesday brought mostly temperate weather for parade watching, some early showers shook up our annual festivities and caused several processions to reschedule. I was thus quite pleased to see Mardi Gras' spirit affirmed as Endymion, though unfortunately forced from its Saturday route in Mid-City, rallied to present an excellent pageant on a Sunday already bursting with parade activity. Endymion's dedication delivered wondrous results, and parade watchers who stuck out the day's two superkrewes were well rewarded.
Indeed, there were many fine parades in 2011, both in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Rex Duke™ dutifully attended as many as possible and appreciates the efforts of all riders and krewe members who work so hard year-round to entertain us.
Below are my scores for the highest-rated parades — and special recognition for superlative efforts, as usual. As much as I love tradition, I also recognize — and reward — innovation that keeps Mardi Gras fresh and new. I, too, must keep up with the times, and therefore, starting this year, I will issue reviews for only those parades meriting at least three and a half crowns on my traditional scale of one-to-five crowns. My reviews of all parades may be found online at www.bestofneworleans.com — where you can also see some Endymion footage shot by me.
Herewith, I offer my reflections — and I bid you well until Carnival 2012.
Best Overall Parade: Endymion
Best Day Parade: Tucks
Best Night Parade: Hermes
Best Super Krewe: Endymion
Best Suburban Parade: Caesar
I must admit I did not have high expectations after Endymion was rained out on Saturday. Rumors swirled up and down St. Charles Avenue that this superkrewe would have no marching bands. Much to my delight, Endymion had more than a dozen outstanding college and military bands, led by a Marine Corps trooop that wowed the crowd with its rendition of John Boutte's Treme theme. Carnival's largest krewe then lit up the night with a dazzling display of innovative illumination. The krewe's captain promised to break new ground with Endymion's new light show, and he kept his word. Several early floats boasted shimmering fleurs-de-lis that changed colors before our eyes. Others used pulsating or streaming lights to convey movement or flowing water (as in the float "Ol' Man River"). Other fine examples of Endymion's brilliantly executed theme of "American Masters" included floats honoring Herman Melville (with Moby Dick), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Evangeline and her oak), Norman Rockwell, Clementine Hunter and Edgar Allan Poe. Riders' costumes matched individual floats, and despite the rain delay every float was filled to the brim with enthusiastic (and generous) riders. Overall, Endymion set a spectacular new standard for float illumination and thematic execution this year — and overcame a postponement that would have sidelined a lesser krewe. Congratulations to the captain and krewe of Endymion on winning this year's "Best Superkrewe" and "Best Overall" ratings!
Hermes' procession was a salute to the Court of the Great Mogul and featured beautiful and finely detailed artwork in brilliant color. The Court of the Great Mogul was illustrated with floats festooned with well-made paper flowers and bouncing 3-D elements. Impressive figures included the Great Mogul on his Birthday, the mythical bug-like creatures identified as the Enchanted Gatekeepers, the Hand of Attis, the Pyramid of the Sun float, the Turkish horses and the duo of monkey attendants. Hermes' king's float was redone and featured bright, fiery orange lions and details. A substantial lineup of bands included St. Augustine, McDonogh 35 and Warren Easton high schools and the U.S. Marine Corps Band. Overall, it was a lavishly rendered parade in bright colors matching floats and costumes. For its efforts and originality, Hermes wins "Best Night Parade" honors.
Le Krewe d'État
Le Krewe d'État was on its game with "Wide World of Sports." There were many great satirical jabs at sports figures (Brett "Minnesota Chubby" Favre) as well as the usual suspects: Gov. Bobby Jindal as a featherweight contender, for example. Local sports fans surely enjoyed the "Two Minute Thrills" float featuring LSU football coach Les "Mad Hatter" Miles, and the "Illegal Procedures" float rehashing the University of Southern California's myriad recruiting problems in major sports programs. Attention to detail included many parting shot jokes on the back of the floats. The "Zona Defense" float lambasting Arizona's draconian response to illegal immigration featured President Barack Obama ushering Latinos into the float's rear entrance — painted as a voting booth. While most of the float ideas were funny, and some spirited in local commentary (the Kern family spat), Rex Duke is reminded that a good joke is the crucial difference between edgy satire and mere mockery.
Leave it to the Krewe of Muses to try to lead with a dancing theme. The women pulled it off expertly. Hilarious floats included Sen. David Vitter as the "Vitterbug," the "Hustle" float featuring Greg Meffert, the Sarah Palin "Poll Dancing" float and President Obama dancing "The Robot." Attention to detail included disco hats on one float's riders, and the krewe sustained a funny concept through a procession of more than 25 floats. As usual, there was a wide variety of unique throws and the poster was a nice souvenir. The krewe also had a contingent of nearly 20 bands and many walking groups, including the Camel Toe Lady Steppers, Pussyfooters, 610 Stompers and others. This parade kept viewers on their feet.
Orpheus' "Visions of Other Worlds" took viewers to exotic locations, ancient times and imagined lands. Notable floats included "Forests of Enchantment," "The Abode of Faeries" and "The Dream of Utopia." It also featured a crown-pleasing nod to the vision of New Orleans in David Simon's Treme. One float carried Wendell Pierce, Steve Zahn and other cast members from the show. The procession also featured more than 15 bands with fine performances by St. Mary's Academy, Walter L. Cohen High School and others. Throws included everything from light-up Treme beads to plush flambeaux.
Proteus posed for an elegant portrait in a parade devoted to its namesake's lore, titled "Prophetic Old Man of the Sea." Traditional wooden wheel floats were beautifully adorned with images of the sea god and the oceans, as well as the many forms he takes. Proteus succeeds in presenting (and preserving) some of Carnival's finest traditions, and floats were beautifully detailed and painted, from sea blues and greens to the red of his guise in flame. It reminds Rex Duke™ that New Orleanians once went to parades solely to view the pageantry. Proteus also had almost as many marching bands as floats.
The British Isles got some sun courtesy of a bright and colorful tribute from Rex in its "This Sceptered Isle" parade. The floats drew inspiration from history and literature, and notable artwork animated Macbeth's three witches, the characters of Lewis Carroll and the legend of St. George and the dragon. Standout bands included Warren Easton and Tulane University, and a contingent of bagpipe players underscored the theme. Costumes were as vibrant as the floats and matched individual float themes, and Rex members are consummate traditionalists in staying masked. Crowds liked Rex bracelets and crown pillows. Overall, it was a truly regal affair.
Alla's "Superfriends" parade was supersized, to say the least. One of the most impressive things about the krewe is how consistently it fills its procession with more than 20 bands on a busy parade day. Some standouts this year included St. Augustine, O. Perry Walker, Archbishop Shaw, Tulane and others. The theme was carried out well on floats, which generally had very good props (Hulk, Batman) and paint jobs carried through on the entire float. The procession was also filled by numerous mounted riding groups, bands on trailers and a bevy of emergency vehicles (ambulances, fire trucks), although perhaps a few of them could have turned their sirens off. Other noteworthy details included the colorful maids dresses and tall collars, which matched the theme.
Bacchus offered a superb theme this year — a salute to the "Greatest Generation," World War II Veterans and those who sacrificed for the war effort — and a fine parade with an ebullient grand marshal in actor Andy Garcia. Unfortunately, this usually outstanding superkrewe fell short of its potential on other fronts. The bands were numerous and excellent, especially the many local public high school marching bands, and riders' costumes matched the theme as well as individual floats. Several floats, however, had entire sections with no riders, and occasionally I saw riders (not many, but enough to notice) taking off their masks — a big no-no. Throws were bountiful but generally lacked originality (though I did like the grape football, even if it had nothing to do with World War II). Overall, Bacchus' theme offered great potential for an over-the-top delivery of unique WWII-era floats and throws. What I saw was nice — but short of what it could have been.
Caesar's procession highlighted careers kids might aspire to as they grow up, with realistic options like chef or construction worker and more fanciful ones like superhero. The costumes matched the floats, which is always a plus. Notable performances were turned in by the East Jefferson, Riverside and Ponchatoula high school bands. The costumed Star Wars guests were popular with the crowd. The array of throws included footballs, basketballs and flying discs.
The subtitle "no reservations" flew below "Chaos Eats Out," and the satirical krewe was full of biting wit. New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas stared through glazed eyes on a float festooned with donuts. Obamacare was presented as a bitter pill. And the New Orleans Saints were dubbed "Unlucky Dogs" for a disappointing early end to their season. The food theme was well integrated into all the floats. Costumes were bright and colorful. Notable marching bands included Roots of Music and Chalmette High School, which entertained the crowd with "Crazy Train."
Thoth schooled parade viewers on college life. "Thoth Goes to College" hit the books, particularly on floats featuring college majors, with pretty floats depicting astronomy and oceanography. Rex Duke™ wishes his college had offered Scandinavian studies. Nonetheless, he appreciates that riders often wore float-appropriate costumes, like the barbershop quartet outfits on the music float. There were many bands and a healthy addition of extra-curricular marchers, including the Pussyfooters and Gris-Gris Strut, plus many original throws.
Tucks offered up one of the most timely and topical themes, lampooning digital technology and cell phone usage with "iTucks: What's Appening?" Floats referenced Farmville, and Wikileaks was turned into a tiki-themed "Wi Ki Leaks." Characters from Pulp Fiction adorned the float titled, "Say Tweet Again." It was a fun and original theme — and it coupled with the krewe's preferred toilet humor, with toilet paper raining down from the floats. The procession included more than 20 bands. Congratulations to Tucks on winning "Best Day Parade" honors!
In many ways, Zulu is over-the-top in a pleasing manner. There's the extensive procession of royalty and named characters, like the Big Shot. The procession included a stunning 30 bands. Throws were exceptional, with everything from treasured light coconuts to umbrellas, tambourines, stuffed toys and more. Unfortunately the theme was sprawling as well. Nominally, it was "Zulu Celebrates Hollywood Movies," but there were floats that didn't seem to relate to film, such as one about Match.com. The Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland was a more appropriate subject and an impressive prop. Costumes generally did not match the float theme, but Zulu has traditional costumes for its riders.
The "Birthstones" theme lent a dazzling array of light and color to Babylon's procession. The krewe used the theme to tie in float themes and costume colors. Some notable floats included the "Turquoise" float with Mayan and Aztec details, the "Aquamarine" float with a seahorse prop and riders in Poseidon crowns, and the "Sapphire" float with riders in red. The procession was very pretty, but the krewe was a little light on bands and throws.
Iris is to be commended for not letting its spirits dampen on a rainy Saturday afternoon. "In Your Wildest Dreams" sounded a bit racier than the krewe's very traditional and wholesome identity. Fun examples of the floats included "At the Seaside," with riders in beach gear and straw hats, and "At the Ballgame," with riders in old-school uniforms. Bands also endured the downfall, and Wright Charter and Wingfield High School from Jackson, Miss., played on valiantly.
The Corps of Napoleon endeared itself to Rex Duke™ and locals alike with its parade down memory lane titled "Ain't Dere No More." Floats recalled K&B, Schwegmann's and McKenzie's Bakery, and there were logo beads to match many float themes. The D.H. Holmes float had Mr. Bingle on it. Of course, Benny Grunch and the Bunch, who wrote the anthem, rode with the procession. The Marine Corps band entertained with "Bourbon Street Parade."
Mid-City marched to its own beat this year. The theme reworked the word "march" into many clever turns of phrase. Some standouts included "Time Marches On," with a clock decorated with signature tin foil, and other common sayings like "In Like a Lion" and "Out Like a Lamb" were featured. There were several bands visiting from out of state to fill in the lineup and Rex Duke™ snagged some signature potato chips from a kind rider.
N.O.M.T.O.C. has become a favorite suburban parade because of its eye-catching floats — they're always exciting and colorful — and its joyful riders, who are generous with throws. With a theme of "Great Works of Fiction," it presented commemorations of popular stories, such as "Terror in the Lab," a rendition of The Fly with a giant fly bearing a human face, "The Dark Knight," with an image of Batman, and "The Siege of New York" with Dr. Octopus from Spider-Man. Riders hold to Carnival traditions in dressing to match the floats and staying masked.
Pontchartrain was on the "ball" this year with clever turns of phrase using the word. In a gimmick the krewe often uses, float titles required viewers to fill in the blank. The crowds enjoyed Lucille Ball and "meatballs." The krewe increased the number of bands from recent years, and Holy Cross and Miller-McCoy Academy performed notably. There were plentiful plush footballs and krewe cups.
Carrollton took a familiar Carnival turn down Broadway and executed the theme well, though it's not the most original idea. Floats celebrated musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof. Costumes generally matched the float themes, but some of the highlights from the parade came from the bands. Notable performances were turned in by Jesuit, St. Mary's, McDonogh 35, Warren Easton and Archbishop Rummel. The 610 Stompers added their "extraordinary moves" to the procession. Throws were generous.
Centurions celebrated "Myths and Legends," and standout floats included the Pegasus. The procession was light on bands, but Hill High School impressed the crowd with its energy. Throws were very plentiful, and lucky recipients liked Centurion stress dolls and stuffed animals.
Cleopatra is well suited to explore "Egyptian Treasures," and it did a good job with the theme, illustrating it with the floats like "Valley of the Kings — King Tut" with a well-detailed bust, "Apis the Sacred Bull," with a golden horned bull, and "Land of the Pyramids," with a pyramid decorated with hieroglyphs. The procession highlighted many unique Egyptian sites and mythological references. The parade featured more than 10 marching bands, including St. Augustine's Marching 100, Helen Cox, Walter L. Cohen and others. There were many throws including light-up items.
Apparently Excalibur is up for knighting a few more rock stars. The theme "A Knight of Rock 'n' Roll" featured Sir Elton John as well as a few other entertainers not yet knighted by the Queen, including Elvis, Madonna and the Beach Boys. The Michael Jackson prop was looking a little green, but the theme was nicely complemented on the floats by riders with tunics matching individual floats. Elton John float riders also wore appropriately outlandish sunglasses. The band count was low at five, but throws were generous.
King Arthur and his knights were among the krewes looking to Egypt for inspiration this Carnival. The colorful floats depicted Isis, Cleopatra and Horus. Notable artwork included the figure of Bastet, the feline goddess. With more than 10 bands, there was plenty of music, and the George Washington Carver High School band stood out. While the krewe tossed a generous array of plush toys and beads, riders' costumes did not match individual floats.
Morpheus had great material to work with by using a popular music theme. "Morpheus Sings a Tune" was fun with Madonna in her "Material Girl" red gown, Elvis dancing the "Jailhouse Rock," Elton John in full "Yellow Brick Road" regalia, and a great bust for the Kiss float featuring "Rock And Roll All Night." Perhaps a bit more peculiar were some of the suspiciously Egyptian looking floats: perhaps one float caught "Cat Scratch Fever" from the feline goddess Bastet. But Morpheus did fill its parade with music, including 15 marching bands on a busy parade night. The krewe threw generously and was a hit with the crowd.
Okeanos engaged young and old parade viewers alike with its theme exploring children's dreams. There were colorful floats about going on an undersea adventure and the simpler pleasure of going to the movies. Costumes were fun, with some riders wearing hot dog or hamburger hats, and others wearing jungle animal masks. The procession included several marching bands and some brass bands, and the Dominican High School band entertained the crowd with "Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk)."
Zeus was one of several Greeks who went to Egypt this Mardi Gras. Floats depicted the Sphinx and King Tut, but some of Zeus' signature features, like warriors on horseback and in chariots, are among the parade's best touches. Crowds also like the drachmas offered instead of doubloons. Among the parade's 10 marching bands were a U.S. Marine Corps unit, and East Jefferson and Lake Providence high schools.
Parades also reviewed by Rex Duke:
Adonis offered a familiar childhood memories theme, and carried it out coherently throughout the parade. Good floats featured Mother Goose, The Wizard of Oz (with a dancing Scarecrow), The Cat in the Hat, Alice in Wonderland (with a giant white rabbit), Treasure Island, and a Charlotte's Web float with a big pink pig. The costumes were uniform throughout the parade, however, not matched to individual floats. There were four marching bands, plus one all-female brass band. The De La Salle High School band did a nice job here.
Argus could have done great things with its theme "What a Wonderful World," but the parade was far more about corporate sponsors. It's true that Argus put on a large parade with 25 floats, but it doesn't take many floats devoted to Jim Beam, Coca-Cola or an auto dealership to rob a parade of the magic of Carnival. Some floats barely related to the theme idea. The U.S. Marine Corps band turned in a great effort, but it was one of only three bands in the procession.
The theme "Atlas Travels Time" was a bit of a catch-all, with everything from Vegas to Cajun Swamp tours. Buddha with blinking lights was an example of a good float. There were chronic problems with riders shedding masks and parts of costumes. There were no marching bands, only dance groups.
Choctaw's parade had its ups and downs. It fielded seven marching bands including units from L.B. Landry, Edna Karr, McDonogh 35 and Donaldsonville high schools. The krewe carried out its theme on just more than half its floats, devoting the first eight to royalty, etc. The theme was "It's All Elemental," and it was executed with mixed results. Medusa as "The Element of Fear," Poseidon as "The Element of Water" and a princess-looking figure as "The Element of Beauty" worked best. Not so well: Zeus with a lightning bolt for "The Element of Fire" and a winged, human-faced lion for "The Element of Fantasy." Good throws included krewe-appropriate items such as plush spears.
Though the krewe has come up with witty themes in the past, this year's hodgepodge of "Druids Games" was more lackluster and random. The funniest float was "Family Feud" featuring the Kern family spat, but many other floats were uninspired: "Craps" with a pile of feces as a prop on the front of the float; "Dungeons & Dragons" had only a sword prop for decoration. "Naked Twister" seemed awkward with its oddly covered naked female body prop. And on a night with no other parades, it had only three marching bands. A couple of extra groups did to complement the Druids identity: a group with all sorts of pyrotechnics performers and what looked like renaissance fair contingent. Rex Duke appreciates that riders adhere to tradition and stays masked during the parade.
Isis' parade was rescheduled due to weather and it is unclear how that affected the procession. The krewe is to be commended for matching costumes with float titles, but it seemed unclear if the floats themselves were matched correctly. "Monkey See, Monkey Do" featured tigers on the front and a snake on the side, although riders' costumes incorporated monkeys. There was similar confusion about other floats, though the "Sweet Dreams" title was matched by riders in nightcaps, and the "Let's Go to the Movies" title was complemented by riders in directors' outfits. Ponchatoula High School's marching band led the procession, but it was one of only three bands.
Oshun assembled a good lineup of bands, including St. Mary's Academy and Xavier Prep. And the king's float looked shiny and new; its riders (King Shango and pages) were decked out for the occasion. A disappointing aspect of the parade was the large number of floats carrying krewe officials and royalty (roughly half the parade's floats), with many of the full-sized "goddesses" floats only carried three or four riders. Overall, the parade had too few riders, and many shed their masks. The Broadway theme was generally carried out with a single good prop on each theme float, but the floats were painted with piano keys.
Pygmalion's theme "It's All Greek To Me" was carried out with nods to Greek mythology: Aphrodite, Orpheus, Pygmalion. But the krewe suffered from its costumes. Some riders wore only masks for costumes, and many riders shed them: almost all floats had two or more unmasked riders. The parade featured seven bands, and Warren Easton High School stood out. Some floats matched throws to the float title, like Aphrodite throwing roses, and overall, the krewe riders threw plentifully.
Rhea is to be commended for making an effort on individual costumes, but overall it failed to make its floats work. The theme "Memorable Music" suffered from repeated mismatches: The "South Pacific" float had a tourist figure on front; "Yankee Doodle Dandy" had the Statue of Liberty on front; "Hair" had a waitress in pink with her hands on big blonde hair; "Grease" and "Chicago" had records on front and tried to use paint jobs to tie in the theme. "Get Crunk" with black and gold and fleur de lis was a more successful attempt. Throws were generous, but the parade had only four bands, several of them middle school bands and one was a drum corps.
Sparta's "I Write the Songs" hit some odd notes, although Sparta was creative with the theme and costumes matched floats. Marilyn Monroe was a memorable entertainer, though perhaps not the best choice for the title float of a parade about music. The procession could have used more bands (it had five), but the Get a Life Marching Band from Portland, Ore., was entertaining, even if they didn't look like they were accustomed to the distance of a Carnival parade. Throws were plentiful.
The theme "Bucket List" should have been easy to carry out, but there were notable deficiencies with the parade: only one band, just 14 floats, T-shirts with appliqués as costumes, and mismatched float ideas/props. It was unclear why the title float "Bucket List" had a big hot dog on it. Successful float concepts included "Ride a hot air balloon" with a balloon for a prop, and "Cast a voodoo spell" with voodoo dolls, skulls and accoutrements. Less successful: "Be a rodeo star" featured a float decorated with farm scenes (not bucking broncos, etc.); "Be a great chef" had a knight's helmet in front, flanked by two chefs; and "Visit the Pyramids" showed a Sphinx and a Cleopatra bust. Riders were generous with throws.
Until next year, adieu, my faithful subjects!