Hail, loyal subjects!
It doesn't take much more than the cadence of a marching band, paper flowers bouncing on floats rumbling down St. Charles Avenue or the flicker of flambeaux to get Rex Duke™ in the purple, green and gold spirit.
The krewes presenting parades in 2012 also were in spirited form and offered truly worthy spectacles. The Krewe of Endymion braved daunting weather forecasts and rolled on a rainy night. The final Sunday featured a rare six parades rolling down St. Charles Avenue. The women of the Krewe of Nyx had a grand Carnival debut. Krewes celebrated Louisiana history and culture on the state's bicentennial. Others looked to the stars and the signs of the zodiac. And Rex, my namesake, treated viewers to the wonderful exploration of the native peoples of the Americas — and its new Butterfly King signature float took wing.
We are indeed fortunate to have among us krewe members who generously throw their time and effort into providing such wonderful annual rites. So, without further ado, Rex Duke™ herewith offers his humble salute to their grace and dedication — my annual reviews of the highlights of Carnival.
Best Overall Parade: Rex
Best Day Parade: Thoth
Best Night Parade: Hermes
Best Superkrewe: Rex
Best Suburban Parade: Caesar
Excellent (sets new Carnival standard)
Very Good to Outstanding
The original theme "Lore of the Ancient Americas" lent itself beautifully to vivid color schemes and flora- and fauna-inspired motifs for Rex's floats. Brilliant color and sculpted figures brought to life the Aztec serpent god Quetzalcoatl and goddess Coatlicue, Hiawatha traveling by canoe and the Native American figure of the coyote as a trickster. On top of that, the organization debuted its new signature float, The Butterfly King, which featured animated wings fluttering for admiring crowds. The new float and creative theme seemed to inject a lively energy into this old-line krewe: masked riders danced aboard their floats and lavished viewers with doubloons, long strands of gold beads, pillows in the shape of the Rex crown float and a rare, coveted throw, an enamel Butterfly King pin. Monroe's Wossman High School Marching Band delivered a dynamic performance. Other crowd-pleasers included the United States Army band and the Tulane University Marching Band.
Hermes dipped into Persian literature in a parade illustrating the Rubaiyat — showing how a traditional literary parade theme can be both elegant and vibrant. The procession of floats was marked by brilliant color, wonderfully detailed and expressive prop figures and an abundance of bouncing paper ornaments, including flowers, snowflakes, grapes and more. The figures, including the pudgy naked reveler on "We That Now Make Merry," the winged woman on "Idols I Have Loved" and the camels and palms on the Caravan float showcased exemplary artwork. The parade also was full throughout with mounted officers, flambeaux and marching bands, including local favorites such as St. Augustine, Xavier Prep, L.B. Landry, McDonogh 35 and several out-of-state bands. Overall, it was an excellent and exotic affair.
Le Krewe d'Etat
Le Krewe d'Etat smartly turned to local favorites. The floats used popular New Orleans songs to turn a phrase on local and national politics. Great floats included "Big Chief" (featuring a killer likeness of New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas wearing a Native American headdress lined with money instead of feathers), "The Girl Can't Help It" (featuring Kim Kardashian and her 72-day marriage — and a lament from Reggie Bush), and "Sea Cruise" (featuring the yachting tech scandal crowd of Greg Meffert, Mark St. Pierre et al.). Some float ideas didn't pan out as particularly funny or pointed, such as one lamenting gridlock in Washington, D.C. The krewe's signature Dancin' Dawlins squad featured men attired as the One Percenters, all in tuxedos and top hats. The Housewives of New Orleans, as a complementary female marching group, were an amusing addition. Throws included plenty of light-up items, such as gel gargoyles and head boppers with d'État's signature skull. Good performances were turned in by marching bands from Central Lafourche and King College Prep of Chicago.
Muses poked fun at their own indulgences and spread the satire around in a theme that combined shopping with local and national topics. Floats featuring "Bourbon Outfitters" and "Wombs to Go" were good examples of Muses' wit. "J. Crude" featured an oil-mucked oyster and referenced the BP oil disaster. "Banana Republicans" feted the less-than-inspiring GOP primary field. A separate "Sayless" float featured Donald Trump with his mouth taped shut. The krewe also accessorized smartly. Throws featured blingy gold beads and credit card medallions. Many floats featured riders in lighted wigs and masks. And the procession was full of special marching groups like the 610 Stompers, Pussyfooters and Camel Toe Lady Steppers.
Orpheus' parade was a star-studded affair with guests Bret Michaels and Cyndi Lauper, both of whom performed at the Orpheuscapade afterward. Other celebrities in the parade included Harry Connick Jr., Hilary Swank and Mariska Hargitay. Orpheus' theme of "Nonsense and Tomfoolery" offered a slew of silly named poems, places and characters, including "Jabberwocky" (on a beautiful float early in the procession), "In the Land of Rumplydoodle" and "In the Land of Bumbly Boo." After a while, however, it became a bit too much gobbledygook matched by single props on floats. Combining flashing lights and fiber optics with old-line Carnival float decorations such as paper flowers is one of the things Orpheus does best, but Rex Duke wonders why this parade only had flowers. Some floats relied on a single prop and nothing else but big red and yellow flowers, which is very pretty, but doesn't play out the theme very thoroughly. Several floats had water themes but flowers instead of waves or something more nautical. Earlier in the evening, Proteus incorporated both motifs. Orpheus riders wore colorful costumes and threw very generously. The procession included nearly 20 marching bands. Overall, a very fine parade.
Proteus made a big splash with its appropriately nautical "Mythologica Aquatica" theme. Floats depicted gods, creatures and heroes. Stunning examples included "Aegir," the Norse sea giant, whose float featured a 3-D Viking ship with mast, sails and shields and very detailed painting and waves in the form of bobbing paper ornaments. The Kraken float featured an octopus attacking a ship with shipwreck detritus and detail conveying the chaos throughout the float. Other impressive figures included Venus and Chinese sea dragons. Many of Proteus' old floats were lavishly adorned with paper flowers, waves and elements that jumped off float surfaces. However, some were not adorned as well, and it gave a slight air of inconsistency, though in fairness, the good ones were stellar and the others still featured good work. Riders threw Naga beads, plush tridents and seahorses — and were generous. A fine lineup of bands included Warren Easton, Roots of Music, George Washington Carver and Sophie B. Wright.
Thoth showed street cred with a parade celebrating local roads, but what set its effort apart from common Carnival nostalgia for better-known streets was its attention to detail. Far-flung local landmarks depicted on floats included Dong Phuong bakery and NASA in eastern New Orleans and Lincoln Beach on Hayne Boulevard. The Downman Road float featured Visions Men's Club. Costumes were good, and safari outfits were a nice choice for the float with the Audubon Zoo. Notable band performances included Chalmette High School leading the procession for the 25th year, Tulane University's band playing "Iko Iko" and KIPP Renaissance High School's band. Riders kept themselves and the crowd in good spirits as delays sometimes occurred on a busy Carnival Sunday, which saw six parades on St. Charles Avenue.
Alla presented its "Astrological Odyssey," featuring the signs of the zodiac. Floats with good props included the Cancer float's crab, the fish on Pisces and others marking Sagittarius, Aries and Gemini. The krewe also had a galaxy of invited guests. Cast members of Swamp People were among the visiting stars. Alla doesn't just pride itself on its consistently stellar lineup of roughly 20 high school marching bands; it also features a slew of extra units, including guests riding convertibles as well as numerous police and fire department vehicles. The krewe threw generously, especially long beads and footballs. The colorful collars on the maids are always bright and well-made. And did I mention the bands? There were too many to name them all, but some of the standouts came from St. Augustine, O. Perry Walker, West Jefferson High School, L.B. Landry, Helen Cox and Edna Karr.
Like several krewes, Bacchus celebrated the Louisiana bicentennial. But even with Will Ferrell riding as Bacchus XLIV, the parade was no joke. Floats feted the Saints, Hornets, LSU, Preservation Hall, the Audubon Zoo and tourism, and individual float costumes included hats or headdresses that often matched the float titles. There was an abundance of bands and throws, the latter including popular pelican plushies and blinking grape clusters.
Caesar relied on festivals from around the world to warm up the crowds on a cold night. Far-flung celebrations included Oktoberfest, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Kauai's Polynesian festival and Mexico's Day of the Dead. Riders on the Russian Winterfest were fortunate to have parkalike costumes on this chilly evening. The royals had massive neon-lit collars. Throws were heavy and included leopard-print plush spears. Brother Martin's band treated the crowd to "America the Beautiful" and East Jefferson High's band lapsed into the theme from ESPN's SportsCenter. Elmo and Cookie Monster were popular with kids, and some older kids enjoyed the costumed Star Wars group from the 501st Legion.
The Knights of Chaos turned its edgy satire on gender issues — including the kind of problems women have with men — in "Chaos Skirts the Issues." Leading the parade was "Thank Heaven For Little Girls," lampooning former governor and convicted felon Edwin Edwards' young bride. A toilet seat left up adorned a float noting Mary Landrieu's re-election campaign to hold on to her Senate seat. Men who received the krewe's attention included radio talk show host Garland Robinette on the float "Lip Schtick." The float decorations and rider costumes were as sharp as the krewe's wit. The East St. John High School marching band looked very good. Float-specific cups were scarce but treasured.
Endymion riders answered the call when the krewe braved a very rainy day to parade through Mid-City. Perhaps it was fittingly titled "Happily Ever After," as this year's theme drew on children's stories and folk tales, many of which dealt with the need to overcome obstacles. Some of the more recognizable figures included Shrek, the frog prince and Cinderella, and some of the stunning figures included a massive demon offering piles of gold. As always, krewe members threw very generously — everything from stuffed footballs to long beads to LED necklaces. The Grambling University band stood out and was a real crowd-pleaser. One lowlight: The king and queen floats were vacant, at least for part of the trip. That's not a good start to a parade, but the rest of the krewe is to be commended for making the best of a very wet evening.
Mid-City's "Apocalypso: Party at the End of the World" foiled any notion that the end times won't be joyous. The dance theme played out with cultural highlights from around the world, and notable floats featured Chinese dragons, Russian ballet, Japanese kabuki, a Mayan pyramid and a snake dance. The parade featured powerhouse performances from St. Augustine, Pierre A. Capdau Charter School (which played Adele's "Rolling in the Deep") and North Carolina's Dudley High School. The potato chip bag throws were popular, as always.
Celebrating "Louisiana Treasures" is something several krewes did this year, but Morpheus seems to have plenty of its own to celebrate. The krewe is growing, and its 20 floats were full of riders. There were nice costuming touches such as the chefs' hats on riders on the float honoring Louisiana chefs. Other floats feted the Saints and LSU Tigers. Also commendable was parading with 15 school marching bands on a busy Carnival night. That alone makes it worth staying out for the third parade of the evening. Some of the highlights included O. Perry Walker, West Jefferson, Archbishop Shaw and a trio of bands from Memphis. The procession also included a couple of Mummers groups. Throwing was heavy and this krewe is on the rise.
Nyx had a grand debut on St. Charles Avenue. Its theme twisted reality TV shows, a concept that's been popular lately in Carnival. Some of the float ideas employed clever turns of phrase, like "Wrought Iron Chef" and "Bourbon Street's Got Talent," which featured a Chris Owens figure. Some were corny, like "Catching Up With the Street Kardashin'," which had a streetcar, and "Carnival's Craziest Catch" with a nautical figure. Others didn't make much sense, such as "504 Jersey Shore," featuring a New Orleans Saint figure. The riders were clearly enthusiastic and the costumes were good. While the front of the parade was loaded with powerhouse marching bands from St. Augustine, O. Perry Walker and Warren Easton, there were too few bands farther back. Overall, it was a solid first effort for the new krewe.
A very elastic theme, "From Zulu With Love," was perhaps the only way to label the massive parade of more than 50 floats and 20 plus bands. On the tails of the Southern University Marching Band, King Zulu was resplendent in a white feather headdress, and the cadre of walking Soulful Warriors generously handed out feathered masks to the crowd. Some floats had odd titles, such as "These beer goggles ain't working!" and aspirations such as "Black and Gold for the Super Bowl at home in the Dome!" Commendably, many riders donned masks and sequined, feathered headdresses. In addition to blackface, some wore masks atop their heads, giving attendees an interesting view when riders ducked forward to grab throws. St. Augustine's Marching 100 sounded great, as always. The lack of a unifying theme is a letdown, but this krewe overcompensates with heavy throwing and an impressive array of bands.
The Knights of Babylon feted a current empire with its "Queen's Diamond Jubilee" theme. Great Britain and its literary classics have been featured often in Carnival parades, and the key to making it work is really embracing the subject. The details here included massive daffodils on "Wordsworth's Daffodils," riders in powdered wigs on the "Queen's Diamond Jubilee" float, and the odd but amusing mix of berets and tuxedos on the riders of "Stratford-Upon-Avon." Floats featured Shakespeare, Wales, Robin Hood and other British figures.
The Krewe of Carrollton celebrated Louisiana with floats depicting everything from riverboats, seafood boils and the outdoors to breweries (Dixie Beer was mentioned). Some of the floats had their own highs and lows. For example, the outdoors float had a flamingo on it, but the riders looked good in pelican masks. Riders on the Louis XV float wore amusing period costumes, but the men seemed to be in Napoleon garb. One float offered state flags, which nicely suited the theme. Other riders were generous with stuffed animals and beads. The solid contingent of marching bands included St. Mary's Academy and the Theophile J. Elie High School band, which was joined by Wendell Pierce and Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc from HBO's Treme.
The ever secretive and inscrutable Druids looked like it was offering up a satirical parade when its "Druid's Circus" theme started with a "Ringmaster" float that appeared to feature a likeness of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, but the rest of the floats simply featured circus performers: clowns, sword swallowers, trapeze girls and a human cannonball. The renaissance fair troupe is a suitable group to march with the Druids, and others included the Muff-A-Lottas and Gris Gris Strut. Marching bands represented Miller-McCoy, Chalmette, Helen Cox and John Ehret high schools.
Excalibur spent a Knight in China, with floats marking the animal signs in the Chinese zodiac. Standout floats included the Year of the Pig, Year of the Goat and Year of the Tiger, each of which had good props and were painted throughout with Asian images. Hats and costumes also matched the theme. The bright, feathered collars on the captain, royals and maids were tall and wide like a peacock's feathers and looked splendid. The procession had only six marching bands, however, and Jefferson Carnival is trying to get krewes to field more than that. Overall, this was a solid parade with a fresh look.
In a self-referential theme, Iris saluted "The Messenger of the Gods." Floats depicted ancient alphabets, the game Scrabble and gossip, which featured a grapevine snaking around the design. Costumes matched individual float ideas, so riders on the "Heavenly Messengers" float dressed as angels. The rain-delay move to Sunday deprived the parade of bands, but the krewe created a good theme and executed it well.
The Knights of King Arthur celebrated both the Louisiana bicentennial and the krewe's 35th anniversary. Impressive floats included "Voodoo," featuring a crypt keeper, and a big open-jawed alligator on "Cajun Influences." The only costumes that broke the mold were the black-and-gold on the riders on the New Orleans Saints float, but the captain and royalty looked fine in white feathers. Standout marching bands came from McMain and West Feliciana High School. Members generously tossed plush animals, footballs and beads to the crowd.
"Gone But Not Forgotten" was Okeanos' title for a parade taking up a theme common at Carnival in recent years: nostalgia and things the city has lost. At the front of the parade, Vince Vance rode on a float bearing his likeness, which was entertaining. Local icons feted on floats included the Bali Hai restaurant, Pontchartrain Beach and McKenzie's bakery. Riders on the K&B Drugs float wore plush purple crowns, and Bali Hai riders wore tropical attire. The Archbishop Rummel High School marching band infused the parade with its energetic presence.
The Krewe of Pygmalion introduced the odd prehistoric Pygmammoth on a new signature float. The creature has fiber optic eyes and carries a handful of riders. The theme of board games wasn't stunning, but it was carried out well with suitable props and decorations on floats. Pygmalion only had seven marching bands, but the lineup was good and the start of the parade featured St. Augustine, Sophie B. Wright and George Washington Carver in rapid succession, which got the parade off to a hot start on a very cold night. Pygmammoth throws were a nice bonus.
Tucks was rescheduled because of weather problems, and that seemed to leave the krewe short of bands and riders. The krewe's theme of "Tucks Gets Culture" featured the group's signature raunchy wit and let-it-all-hang-out personality. It's known for toilet humor, and one of the funniest floats was "Michael Angelo's David Vitter," featuring the marble statue of David wearing a diaper (and a painted vignette with Vitter saying, "The real masterpiece is in my diaper.") One float reimagined Cubism as a case of beer goggling. The "Yat Supper" was the Last Supper turned into a crawfish boil. The riders on "The Velvis" float — celebrating velvet Elvis canvases (including the King riding as Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square) — featured jumpsuits, shades and pompadours. Marching bands came from Oakhaven High School in Memphis and local Shack Brown Charter School. Throws included toilet paper and little plastic toilets.
Reminders of past years' themes filled Zeus' 55th anniversary parade. Floats harkened back to 1961's "A Child Dreams of Fantasy," 1958's "The Realm of Mother Nature" and 1981's "Those Were the Days" float, the latter of which had a brass band aboard. Newer to the procession were grand marshals Jarrett Lee and T-Bob Hebert from LSU's 2011 SEC championship football team. The procession's traditional elements included mounted riders and members in chariots. Riders threw the krewe's signature drachmas (Greek-inspired doubloons), and there were vuvuzela-like horns. The procession was light on bands, but the Marine Corps band and the Archbishop Rummel High band played well.
New Orleans' Most Talked Of Club (N.O.M.T.O.C.) rolled Uptown and not in Algiers after heavy rain forced it to reschedule. The change deprived the parade of some bands, but L.B. Landry got the crowd excited during the early Sunday procession. The theme combined Zodiac and monster floats, which was entertaining if not totally in sync. Perhaps more confusing was a football team riding on the Mummy float. The riders made the best of the changes and threw heavily — particularly stuffed toys.
Fans of local festivals were treated to a fun parade by the Krewe of Pontchartrain. The float titles turned each festival into a guessing game, and events celebrated ranged from the Alligator Festival to Voodoo Festival, although the float was decorated with daisies, which was an odd choice. Riders wore costumes that matched float themes. The small contingent of marching bands included Miller-McCoy Academy and St. Mary's Academy.
It's admirable to see Sparta's reverence for tradition. The mule-drawn king's float looked great and the dink at the head of the parade also is impressive. The theme had fun with puns on animals it associated with Mardi Gras. The rabbit float was subtitled "Hoppy Mardi Gras," a float with a tiger was of course used as a reference to LSU. The "Cochon" float was subtitled "This Little Piggy Went to Sparta." The parade was good on throws, but light on marching bands, although O. Perry Walker and Baker High School sounded great.
Adonis turned on the local charm in a parade honoring the Louisiana Bicentennial. Floats noted the contributions of the Ursuline nuns and Jean Lafitte, and others depicted the swamps and streetcars. Riders were generous with cups and beads. The krewe could do more to make costumes match individual floats and the parade was light on marching bands.
The self-reflexive theme of "The State We're In" celebrated Louisiana and its history, but it also accommodated some of the local notes in the Argus parade, such as Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand's superfloat and the Blue Dog float. Other floats featured Thomas Jefferson, perhaps suited to the parish, and the LSU Tigers. It also served as an umbrella for commercial floats, including one for a local car dealer — not Rex Duke's idea of an appropriate float to entertain spectators. The parade could also use more bands, but the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office's Band of Excellence and the Archbishop Rummel High School marching band were impressive.
It was game time for Centurions. The krewe's colorful parade featured popular games, especially children's games, such as Hungry Hungry Hippos, Mouse Trap and Ants in the Pants. Dungeons & Dragons was a more adult game/float, but it seemed to feature Halloween creatures. The entire krewe wore similar costumes, and some element of detail corresponding to individual floats would be nice.
The Krewe of Choctaw tuned up its fans with "Listen to the Music." Floats depicted popular musicians and songs, including Madonna and "Material Girl," Elton John and "Crocodile Rock," and KISS' "Calling Dr. Love." Riders on the KISS float modeled their looks on the arena rockers' facial makeup, and it would have been good to see more riders match costumes to floats. There also could have been a few more bands, but Monroe's Wossman High School was impressive. The riders were generous with footballs, New Orleans Saints helmets and signature plush tomahawks.
With the theme "Cleopatra Tips Her Hat to Mardi Gras," one might have expected to see many Carnival themed floats or more hats. Many delivered, including a jester float and one featuring a queen with a scepter. Title signs might have helped finesse some more strained references, like a float with a teepee (nod to the Krewe of Choctaw?), or a float with Drew Brees' likeness and riders in New Orleans Saints hats. The plantation home and alligator stretched the concept too far. There was a good number of marching bands, including those from Louisiana Tech and St. Augustine, Helen Cox, Archbishop Shaw and L.W. Higgins high schools. The riders were generous with a variety of throws.
Napoleon offered a dose of reality TV, and riding as guests were a host of people from the show Swamp People (cast members and extended family members). Well-done floats included "Dirty Jobs," with a pig figure on the front of the float. Some ideas were more obscure, such as the Jersey Shore float, which settled for a figure with black hair. The costumes, however, matched the idea with riders wearing Snooki wigs. Some floats only communicated their idea by having the name of the show on the side. Musical highlights included the Southern University band with an active team of dancers. Impressive high school units came from Donaldson High School and East High. The krewe chose a theme that should have provided a lot of material to work with, but some floats and too many costume ideas didn't follow through.
Classic tunes are always crowd pleasers and Chris Owens may have been the perfect guest for this parade. Thor's "Rocking with the Oldies" featured plenty of hits, like "I Just Called To Say I Love You," on a float with a big phone. The playlist stretched to include "When the Saints Go Marching In," which feted the New Orleans Saints. The Gibson float at the end featured musicians, and although commercial in nature, it did echo the parade theme. The Tulane University marching band led the procession in impressive form and East Jefferson High School also turned in a good performance. Costumes were on the simple side, with hats and decorated sweatshirts. And not seeing masks disappoints Rex Duke, but skipping a costume altogether, which happened more than once, is not in the Carnival spirit.
Oshun offered some fun "Child's Play." Pretty floats included "Mary Mack Dressed in Black" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider." Unfortunately, costumes were more formalwear than Carnivalesque and often didn't match float themes or colors, with the exception of the black outfits with the "Mary Mack" float. There were prize throws like light-up peacocks, but overall the krewe threw mildly. The procession seemed to fly by quickly, but some of the bands included O. Perry Walker and Langston Hughes Academy.
It's clear that the members, including many younger riders, enjoyed their parade. Unfortunately, Atlas cuts a lot of Carnival corners. There were only three bands, but Destrehan High School looked sharp. The floats were a mish-mash of ideas, and the official theme of "A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That" wasn't on a title float as far as I could see. I did see floats with titles "Roman," "Grapevine," "Horoscope," "Island Rescue" and "Rainbow." The riders threw enthusiastically. Overall, this krewe is happy with keeping things simple.
Rex Duke was unable to review the Isis parade and offers his apology to the krewe.