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Reveling in Recovery: Rex Duke Parade Reviews 

Rex Duke™, the world's first and foremost parade critic, once again rates Carnival's processions

2009 Parade Highlights

Best Day Parade: Rex

Best Night Parade: Muses

Best Super Krewe: Orpheus

Best Suburban Parade: N.O.M.T.O.C.

Most Improved: Alla

Best Overall: Muses

Favorite Themes: "009: License to Swill" (Muses), "The Whimsical World of How and Why" (Orpheus), "Whys" (Ancient Druids), "Naturally Chaos" (Chaos)

Ratings Key

5 crowns: Excellent. Sets a new Carnival Standard

4 Crowns: Very Good to Outstanding

3 Crowns: Good

2 Crowns: Fair

1 Crown: Poor

Hail, Loyal Subjects and fellow denizens of the realm of Carnival!

  I, Rex Duke™, the world's first and foremost parade critic, proclaim that if "recovery" is measured in revelry, New Orleans has restored its grand tradition of music, fun, satire, pomp and pageantry — assisted this year by truly regal weather.

  This year marked the centennial of Zulu, and what a fine anniversary it was! And from the Avenue to Mid-City to the outer kingdoms of Metairie and the West Bank, I beheld the largest crowds I've seen since the departure of wicked Katrina.

click to enlarge JAMES SCHIRO
  • James Schiro

  Each year, as I fold my robes, stow my trinkets (in my attic, of course) and prepare my sparse Lenten repast, I bestow golden crowns upon local krewes for their achievements — along with musings I pray they find instructive. Included this year are photographs taken by you, my faithful subjects, and sent to my minions at www.bestofneworleans.com. My solemn hope is that these thoughts and images in some small way will sustain the Carnival spirit in all our hearts until Feb. 16, 2010, when we shall meet again!

Adonis — 2

  The Krewe of Adonis gave a lackluster showing in Metairie, with floats that often missed the theme, "Love Adonis Style." For example, I had difficulty discerning how a float with a nun signified "That's Amore," or how another with William Shakespeare depicted "The Queen of Hearts." Riders also were a bit miserly with throws.

Alla — 4

  Alla does a superior job putting music on the streets. Its collection of 20 marching bands included the U.S. Marine Corps Marching Band and the St. Augustine Marching 100 as well as many top area high school bands. Rock and Cajun bands playing on floats and trailers included Michael Hurtt and the Haunted Hearts, the Vettes and Amanda Shaw, who autographed Frisbees between songs and tossed them to viewers. The "Alla Tells Tall Tales" theme rounded up a bevy of great stories illustrated with dramatic props and painted scenes, particularly "The Headless Horseman," "Rougaroux" and Pecos Bill riding a tornado. Sheriff Harry Lee's "Leesiana" has been converted to Sheriff Newell Normand's float and bears a squad car with flashing lights. Krewe members threw generously, but their new outfits were uniform throughout – not matching the theme or individual floats.

Ancient Druids —3

  My favorite traditional elements of the Druids parade are the krewe's witty themes and wordplay. The theme of "Whys" was spun into "Ha-Why-E" on a float with a beach hut, "Why M-C-A" with film characters, and rhetorical questions like "Why Do Camels Have Toes?" The krewe dipped into local politics about church closings with "Why, Archbishop, Why?" The procession featured only eight bands; throws were light but included flexible glow sticks that seemed like lighting bolts tossed from magician-costumed riders. While the wordplay and some parade elements were laudable, they didn't come together in a cohesive way, leaving the parade with a sense of randomness.

Argus — 2.5

click to enlarge PHOTO BY KIM PAGE
  • Photo by Kim Page

  Argus offers a long parade full of diversions — but I do not like commercially sponsored floats. The seven marching bands provided quality entertainment, but most of the floats only loosely fit the theme, "Bon Apetit." My favorites were "Blue Dog Cafe" with artist George Rodrigue's iconic Blue Dog on front, and "French Market," which had smiling cabbage in front of the French Market arch. Throws were plentiful but lacked imagination. Riders dressed to match individual floats, and their hats made the biggest impression.

Atlas — 2

  Atlas' theme, "Atlas Goes on Vacation," inspired more than 20 floats ranging from the highly specific ("Washington State Apples," a fabulous, floating tree house) to the hopelessly vague ("Florida," which featured a sunset). Elsewhere, inconsistent artwork doomed some showpieces: "Founding Fathers" depicted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, seemingly, as aliens from outer space, while "Woodstock, New York" bore a love child more closely resembling a river troll. Marching bands were scant, and throws and costumes were uninspired.

Babylon — 3

  The traditional, mule-driven king's float and flambeaux got the Knights of Babylon parade off to a fine start, as usual. Many floral floats beautifully conveyed the theme, "Living Jewels," and the dragonflies, salamanders, butterflies, coral and cobras were lovely to behold. Riders wore color-coordinated theme costumes and threw generously. My favorites were insignia jester hats. There was a fine contingent of bands, most of which put on a really good show.

Bacchus — 4.5

  While some of the monsters in Bacchus' "Creatures of the Imagination" parade have been depicted through the years, the props, floats and ideas were executed in brilliant color, lights and detail. I was particularly pleased to see float riders in costumes matching their title (Viking horns on the Valkries float, reptilian jaw hats on the Godzilla float, and yellow and orange flames on the Phoenix float riders). The procession was smooth and efficient and included a stellar 29 bands from New Orleans and surrounding parishes. Riders threw heavily and Bacchus did an excellent job showing what a superkrewe can do well in both quantity and quality.

Caesar — 3.5

  "Caesar's Got Game" was this family-friendly krewe's theme this year, featuring videogame characters from Pac-Man to Pokemon atop many of the 29 floats. Once again, floats featured Caesar's signature neon and fiber-optic trim, and riders were nicely costumed and masked. Highlights included "Shrek 3" and Caesar's crowd-pleasing annual double-decker, "Hydra." Riders were generous with beads, flying discs and plush toys for the many children along the route, but the real catch of the night was the pink beads thrown by grand marshal David Archuleta, the 2008 "American Idol" runner-up who had every 'tween girl in the crowd screaming for his attention.

Carrollton — 3.5

  New Orleans' fourth-oldest krewe brought an international theme to its "A Fair to Remember" parade, which chose the 1984 World's Fair as its raison d'etre. Riders bore the traditional dress of the world's nations. My favorite was seeing riders in lederhosen top a beer-stein-fronted float. Jesuit High School's marching band led the parade to great applause, followed by superb performances from the McDonough 35, Holy Cross and St. Mary's Academy marching bands.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ED GREENLEE
  • Photo by Ed Greenlee

Centurions — 2.5

  As their fighting counterparts in ancient Rome did, Centurions braved chilly weather to bring 22 floats to Metairie for "Centurions 20th USA Adventure." Most of the floats fit the theme, like the lovely "Yellow Rose of Texas," with a rose in full bloom on front, and "Alaska," with a polar bear and penguin. The parade included only five marching bands, however, and Centurions lost points for scant throws that lacked variety.

Chaos — 4

  The Knights of Chaos presented a satirical parade in the grand Momus tradition. Although the execution of the theme, "Naturally Chaos," did seem a little, well, chaotic, the floats themselves were top notch: eye catching, colorful, detailed, clever and original. Did I mention funny? The "Council s'No Balls" float was a riot, as was the Bill Jefferson "Makin' Groceries" float and the "If Ever I Cease to Stop" float, representing the frustrations of New Orleanians caught unawares by the new traffic light cameras that have been popping up all over the city. Krewe members unleashed a deluge of exciting throws. The haphazard costumes on some floats cost this fine krewe a few points this year. Preceding Muses is a tall order on any night, but these noble knights were up to the task.

Choctaw — 3

  Choctaw stepped it up a notch on its 74th anniversary with a new route and a new parade day that fell on Valentine's Day, thus the theme "The Mardi Gras of Love." The krewe was spirited and organized; riders all wore red outfits, and most had hearts painted on their faces. They also were generous with throws and cups. The U.S. Marine Corps Band stood out among the procession's seven bands. My favorite floats included "Lovin' Easter," with a big rabbit on the front (riders wore bunny ears) and a double-decker streetcar for "NOLA Love."

Cleopatra — 2

  The women of Cleopatra refused to let a constant drizzle dampen their spirits. They were joyful and extremely generous with throws that were varied and exciting. The parade's organization, however, was dismal, with gaps long enough to take a nap. Many floats belied the theme, "It's Five O'clock Somewhere," such as a "Margaritaville" float with lion on front; "Dirty Martini," sporting a big, blue ram; "Bloody Mary" with a circus elephant and "Pink Lady," which had the bust of a woman dressed in blue.

Endymion — 4.5

  When a krewe springs forth with so many members parading under its flag, spectators anticipate the mightiest, or at least the most interesting, of royalty. Alas, these lean times undoubtedly gave us guests lean on celebrity appeal. Thus did Kid Rock, in a gold lamé vest, and the not-very-gracefully-aging REO Speedwagon lead a procession that proved that size does indeed matter. Endymion's hallmark tandem megafloats bore the theme "Tales of Sleep and Dreams," revealing multi-tiered floats with three-to-four in tow. The crowd loved the purple, gold and green glowsticks, as well as the krewe's signature cups (featuring a sleeping male nude). Vibrant costumes complemented float colors, lighting up the Mid-City evening. All in all it was another outstanding parade, but not Endymion's best.

Excalibur — 3

  A sequel of sorts to last year's castle motif, Excalibur's 2009 parade aptly celebrated, King Arthur, the legendary king of Britain. Twin swans signaled the arrival of the queen's carriage, and Morgana Le Fay's blue crescent moon cast a lunar spell over the latter half of the 21-piece procession. (It bears mentioning, though, that I spotted many of the same floats in King Arthur's Uptown route on Sunday.) Many riders wore impressively plumed headdresses, but only five area school bands marched in this parade. Excalibur's throws, while abundant, lacked flair.

Hermes — 4.5

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JAMES SCHIRO

  Although by some mythological accounts Dionysus pushed Hermes out of Olympus, the krewe paid great tribute to the god of wine and ecstasy this year by depicting dramatic scenes from the life of Dionysus and his many acquaintances (often bodaciously rendered — particularly Dionysus' drunk and lewd companion Silenius — befitting the theme). The king's float and the Garden of Earthly Delights are brilliant signature floats, and many of this year's theme floats were lushly adorned with paper flowers and 3-D effects. Riders threw plenty of beads and signature items and offered a great set of 15 bands. Mounted officers in gold and white were stunning. Costumes were good overall, but some riders' habit of removing their masks for guests at a downtown reviewing stand was disappointing.

Iris — 4

  There's nothing like a cross-country jaunt down St. Charles Avenue, especially when it comes courtesy of this lovely, all-women krewe behind the theme, "On The Road Again." Each float depicted an American destination, including "Plymouth Rock," which featured a turkey on the front and riders in Native-American garb, and "San Diego Zoo," complete with white tigers and pink flamingoes. Known as a family parade, Iris was generous with throws — beautiful gold medallions, non-lethal stuffed spears and little purses for future krewe members.

Isis — 2.5

  The Krewe of Isis made a spirited showing in Metairie, but its theme, "An American Songbook," was only loosely represented the floats. The double-decker floats were enhanced with blinking lights and generous riders (though the throws lacked variety) dressed to match individual float titles. Ponchatoula High School, The Echoes of New Orleans Drum and Bugle Corps and East Jefferson High School were standouts among the eight bands that marched in the parade.

King Arthur — 3

  Who would wish upon Carnival spectators the image of a hanged teddy bear? A large bear, hanging by its neck on a maid's float, dampened my spirits at this parade — as did the sight of riders using cell phones and several spelling errors (e.g., "obiturary"). A companion noted the krewe's reuse of Excalibur's floats, but the crowd, mainly families, seemed to enjoy the spectacle nonetheless.

Le Krewe d'État — 4.5

  Le Krewe d'État has set a very high standard for itself over the years, and d'État presented many great political jokes again this year. Using Broadway as a premise, however, made the krewe's task even more difficult because Broadway is an oft-used parade theme. My favorites this year included "Big Girls Don't Cry," featuring a bawling New Orleans Councilwoman Shelley Midura, and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Causeway," with Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price tipping over a tollbooth. Other floats had great props but the jokes didn't seem as fresh (e.g., Barack Obama as "The Wiz"). The lineup of bands was solid, as always. Where d'État outdid itself this year was in rolling out the new Banana Wagon, marching units like the skeleton crew in front and the dictator's dancing Papal Police. The krewe also stepped up its game with throws like the banana medallion bead, large hologram cups (a first), light-up squishy gargoyles and skulls, and krewe playing cards.

Mid-City — 3.5

  For its 75th anniversary, the krewe chose a characteristically amusing theme — "Parrotheads in Paradise" — with Mardi Gras-meets-Margaritaville titles executed via Mid-City's signature foil floats. The floats' vibrant colors, krewe members' quality throws (including plush parrots and bags of potato chips), and a show-stopping performance from Houston's North Forest High School made for a high-energy, family-friendly event that makes this parade a perennial crowd pleaser.

Morpheus — 3.5

  On a busy night, Morpheus put on a full parade, fielding 10 marching bands and the Panorama Jazz Band and nearly 20 floats. "Dreams" made for a familiar theme, but Morpheus' namesake fits the concept — and the krewe spun it mostly as a wish list with realistic interests: "Dreams of Law and Order," "Dreams of Speedy Travel" and what may be one of Carnival's first explicitly eco-friendly sentiments, "Dreams of Mothering Earth." In concept, "Dreams of Unlikely Alliances" seemed prescient even if the mythological Venus and Hades busts seemed out of sync with the rest of the visuals.

Muses — 5

  Muses' 2009 parade was truly inspired. Muses' treasured throws — always among Carnival's best — never seemed more plentiful. The satirical theme, "009: License to Swill," unleashed a cavalcade of clever James Bond puns (in the sequence of the films' releases). I barely had time to notice how cleverly each float conveyed this year's theme, what with the neon pendants, high-heeled bracelets and sequined pumps whizzing past my head every moment. Among the 27 floats were classic standbys such as the sudsy bathtub and monster-sized shoe. The 15 bands, including those from St. Augustine and Warren Easton high schools, hit their notes with moxie, and the Camel Toe Lady Steppers were on point as always. My favorite memory of Muses 2009 will be the sight of Mrs. Antoinette K-Doe and her beloved Ernie riding in a Carnival parade for the last time. Godspeed, Empress. May all your days be Mardi Gras.

Napoleon — 3

  The Corps de Napoleon put on a good show. Special touches included horse-drawn carriages for some of the maids, pretty costumes for riders and maids, all traditional, a quartet of horseback riders all dressed as Napoleon, and the Kilts of Many Colours bagpipe and drum corps. Standout floats included "Waterloo," with Napoleon on horseback flanked by confetti canons; "French Alps," which had a sharp peak and mountain scenes and "Cannes Film Festival," with a director behind a big movie camera. There were 10 marching bands, but Napoleon had few riders on many floats, and throws were scant with little variety.

N.O.M.T.O.C. — 4

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOHN R. DUGGAR
  • Photo by John R. Duggar

  N.O.M.T.O.C. suffers no slackers: not in its members, float designs, throws, bands or dance groups. This is a very fun neighborhood parade, with a large volume and surprising variety of throws, and colorful and exciting floats (some of which are shared with Zulu). The theme "NOMTOC's Gumbo Pot" allowed variety, including unusual floats like "Johnny Appleseed," which had a big tree with dangling apples, and the two-float "Headless Horseman," which had the horseman sans head on one float and a magnificent flaming pumpkin on a second. The bands played continually, with favorites including O. Perry Walker and Arlington High School from Indianapolis, Ind.

Okeanos — 2

  Okeanos, derived of Oceanus, one of the 12 titans of Greek lore (creator of worlds, conqueror of men), chose an all-too-familiar theme this year — "Laissez les bon temps rouler." Floats were predictably adorned with crawfish, Saints logos, and one that resembled Six Flags, the local affiliate of which is shuttered. Okeanos was generous with throws, however, and the 10 bands provided ample entertainment.

Orpheus — 4.5

  Orpheus led with the mighty St. Augustine marching band, and its 24 floats beautifully executed the theme, "The Whimsical World of How and Why." In a blur of colors, costumes, flowers and foliage, floats traced the origins of forests and lakes and answered queries ("Why are soft-shelled crabs soft?" and "Why are ostriches' wings short?"). Other favorites included the Galileo-inspired "How the Milky Way was formed" and "How Arachne gives cotton from her web." Monarchs Joan Rivers, Jim Belushi, Bryan Batt and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu reveled in the glory of leading the parade, and the off-duty (but uniformed) cast of Reno 911 seemed particularly gleeful. Complaints were minor: the 10 bands were frontloaded, and throws, while slung with verve, could use more variety.

Oshun — 1.5

  Among Oshun's highlights were the seven New Orleans high school bands, and the all-female bands of St. Mary's Academy and Xavier Prep did a wonderful job leading the parade. While the theme "Storytime Rhymes" was whimsical and family friendly, it was conveyed sporadically. The riding goddesses wore beautiful feathered collars, but many riders shed their masks or headgear.

Pegasus — 2

  Pegasus' theme, "Celebrating New Orleans," has been overdone and painfully presented in oh-so-many ways, but it still brings joy to my heart to see floats like "Audubon Zoo" peopled with those who love Carnival best: children. As for the rest of the 13 floats, none stood out — but the po-boy float did leave me hungry. Unfortunately, the same goes for the rest Pegasus: it left me wishing the parade had given us more.

Pontchartrain — 2

  Pontchartrain threw a little St. Valentine's Day charm into its parade, tossing red and silver heart-shaped beads and using the theme, "Can You Name That Love Song?" Viewers had to guess float titles based on props, which was easier with Elvis at the head of "Love Me Tender" and a phone on the "I Just Called To Say I Love You" float. The procession had only five marching bands, however.

Proteus — 4.5

click to enlarge PHOTO BY RONNIE CARDWELL
  • Photo by Ronnie Cardwell

  With the Lundi Gras sunset providing a magnificent backdrop of colors, Proteus' wonderfully ornate wagon floats evoked a sense of what Carnival used to be and why it is still revered if not universally honored. Paradegoers might not have recognized all of the characters from Welsh mythology — even I haven't read The Mabinogion in years — but that didn't stop viewers from appreciating the outstanding work of float designers, the Royal Artists, on such displays as "The Battle of the Lion and the Giant," and "The Meeting of Pwyll and Lady Rhiannon." For an old-line krewe, Proteus' riders were extremely generous with throws. I especially loved the beautiful red beads with silver seahorses — and some seahorses that lit up!The 12 bands were more than sufficient and the 9th Ward Marching Band brought a mischievous grin to my countenance with its rendition of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' "Little Red Riding Hood."

Pygmalion — 2

  Pygmalion celebrated its 10th anniversary with a salute to New Orleans. Though not very original, Pygmalion's floats and feather-and-sequin maids collars matched the theme well. Floats notable for good sculpture props, particularly "Cemeteries" and "Suck Da Heads." Maids' collars featured local favorites such as McKenzie's Bakery, Pontchartrain Beach and St. Louis Cathedral. Unfortunately, this parade offered only six bands.

Rex — 4.5

  The telltale jingle of doubloons bouncing from the floats to the street filled the afternoon air as the krewe celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Mardi Gras doubloon. The "Spirits of Spring" theme featured finely detailed floats, with bursts of neon and playful colors to support icons like a mysterious "Green Man" and giant "Hibernating Bears." Sprinting down St. Charles Avenue, the late arrivals in Rex had little time to share their throws, but when stopped, the crowd received a deluge of signature cups, koozies, Frisbees and packaged Rex medallion beads to make up for the faster-than-usual parade. Marching bands were in no hurry, however, including Tulane's Green Wave marching band, which turned to a crowd member to play "Happy Birthday" before returning to the march.

Rhea — 3

  What this parade lacked in marching bands — it had only six — it tried to make up for in large dance groups, with 15 from across the metro area. The theme of "Rhea Knows What It Means to Miss New Orleans" was evident in floats like "Aquarium," with a big pink starfish and fish; "St. Patrick's Day Parade," with a wild, redheaded leprechaun, and "Celebration in the Oaks," with a big Santa on the front. Costumes were tailored to the floats, and throws were plentiful and varied.

Sparta —2.5

  Perhaps owing to its ancient progenitors' military efficiency (but more likely due to an evening drizzle), Sparta moved quickly this year — as if marching off to war rather than displaying the terpsichorean movements of Carnival whimsy. The theme, "The Empire of the Sun," was executed well as the majestic planets of the Milky Way orbited on by. Sparta featured only three marching bands, but its ceramic medallion was a fine catch for those lucky enough to snag one in the rush.

Thor — 2

  Thursday is named for Thor, the god of thunder and rain, so perhaps it was fitting this parade was postponed from Wednesday to Thursday this year as the krewe feared rain. The East Jefferson High School band led the procession, but it was the only marching band in the parade. The floats carried an unimaginative theme, "From Sea to Shining Sea," and I already had seen some of them in previous parades. The procession was organized and moved at a lively clip, but lacked variety and abundance in throws.

Thoth — 4

  Another perennial favorite, Thoth's size (42 floats and 25 marching bands) and dedication to its theme treated viewers to an "Aquatic Adventure." Floats depicted margaritas and even a brewery (which I approve as both "aquatic" and adventurous) along with a panoply of Gulf Coast creatures. Riders wore the colors and appropriate costumes of their respective floats, but their throws, though in generous supply, did not match the lavish parade, with the exception of signature car magnets and a great variety of doubloons.

Tucks — 4

  Admittedly, I gasped — and perhaps that was the point — when I first looked upon the gruesome floats behind the theme, "Cone of Horror." Yes, Tucks was playing on the near-miss of Hurricane Gustav, with floats such as "Send in the FEMA Clowns" and "The Mayor Who Cried Wolf." Fortunately, Tucks' display was jocular and inoffensive to anyone whose surname wasn't Nagin. With 17 bands, the parade was uniformly musical, and throws were non-stop and original. My favorites included monogrammed toilet paper, commode flip glasses and numerous customized medallions.

Zeus — 2.5

  Zeus assembled a constellation of bands, floats and mounted riders to fill its "Zeus and the Zodiac" theme. Maids and dukes were arranged by astrological sign, which was a clever way to draw out the theme but masked how many of the parade's 24 floats carry royalty (more than half). Some of the floats were obvious holdovers from a St. Valentine's Day theme, however.

Zulu — 4

  Though it got off to a slow start, Zulu's trek down St. Charles Avenue celebrated the club's 100th anniversary, and more than 20 bands played their hearts out to match the historic weight of the day. Generous helpings of Zulu beads, plastic spears and axes rained on the crowds, and Zulu's most coveted throw — the coconut — was in ample supply as well. Only the luckiest of paradegoers received these golden treasures, and that's as it should be. Floats featured familiar images of Zulu warriors and jungle themes, but surprising turns, such as a Beatles-themed Yellow Submarine float (with portraits of the band and album covers), added a touch of whimsy to the morning procession.






The Gambit's Readers' Choice Awards

Special thanks to Nonna Randazzo's Bakery

Our readers voted for their favorite parades at www.bestofneworleans.com and some sent in pictures they took during Carnival for our photo contest. (sponsored by Moldaner's Camera and Imaging) Below are results of the polling, and the winning photos are in the following pages and on www.bestofneworleans.com.

Best Overall Parade: Endymion

Best Day Parade: Thoth

Best Night Parade: Muses

Best Super Krewe: Endymion

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