Hail, Loyal Subjects and fellow denizens of the realm of Carnival! Or, to invoke the current parlance of my faithful followers, What man saith he wouldst triumph oer those Saints? What man? What man?
I, Rex Duke, the worlds first and foremost parade critic, have always proclaimed that no celebration anywhere in the world could triumph oer Mardi Gras. But I was almost almost proven wrong this year, as the New Orleans Saints staged a spectacle of sport that rivaled Carnival itself in splendor and celebration.
It was only fitting this year that some of the brightest luminaries in Carnival were Saints themselves. Mr. Andrew Christopher Brees reigned as Bacchus, Mr. Patrick Sean Payton rode in the Krewe of Orpheus, and Mr. Thomas Benson was awarded the title of grand marshal of Endymion. Those who arose early on Fat Tuesday may have noticed a number of Saints on the Zulu floats as well: Messrs. Devery Vaughn Henderson Jr. and Randall Jerome Gay Jr. among them. As regards more traditional concerns, I tip my hat to the krewes of dÉtat and Proteus, each of which featured excellent flambeaux that were well organized and fully functional throughout their routes.
If there were anything I would change about our annual celebration, its the nagging practice of scheduling so many too many, in my humble opinion parades near the end of the season and not enough earlier in the week before Shrove Tuesday. As a result, when krewes get rained out late in the game, they have to reschedule on nights when we wind up with four parades, such as happened on Friday night. Please, dear Captains and Kings, cant we spread the celebrations out more evenly so that, even in the event of rainout-induced schedule changes, no more than three parades will roll on any given night?
I feel better for having said that, and now, as I fold my robes, stow my trinkets (in my attic, of course) and prepare my austere Lenten repast, I bestow golden crowns upon local krewes for their achievements in pomp and pageantry along with observations I pray they find instructive.
Farewell for now, New Orleans. We shall meet next for Mardi Gras on March 8, 2011 a date so late that the Carnival season itself will span one-sixth of the years calendar!
Best Day Parade Tucks
Best Night Parade Proteus
Best Superkrewe Bacchus
Best Suburban Parade Alla
Most Improved Pygmalion
Favorite themes Hermes (Sacred Bestiary), Le Krewe dÉtat (dÉtats Inferno: A Not-So-Divine Comedy), Rex (Fables of Fire and Flame), Tucks (Tucks Faces Reality)
GAMBIT READERS CHOICE AWARDS
Our readers voted for their favorite parades at www.bestofneworleans.com and came up with their winners:
Best Overall Parade Muses
Best Day Parade Thoth
Best Night Parade Orpheus
Best Superkrewe Bacchus
Following are full reviews of the best parades along with scores for all the parades Rex Duke was able to attend. My sincerest apologies to those suburban krewes whose parades I was unable to view in person this year. I promise to do better next season. Processions earning fewer than four crowns are ranked, and full reviews for all parades can be found online at www.bestofneworleans.com.
Yes, Love is in the Air was an appropriate St. Valentines Day theme, and much amour was directed at Bacchus 2010, Saints quarterback (and Super Bowl XLIV MVP) Drew Brees. Floats such as the Bacchagator, Bacchasaurus and the gorillas could even be viewed as suitable offensive linemen for the beloved MVP, and the numerous marching bands, including McDonough 35 High School, St. Augustines Marching 100 and Southern University, played skillfully as always. The costumes of all the riders matched the sub-themes of their individual floats a huge plus in my book and the crowd repeatedly roared its approval. Throws were plentiful, the weather was sublime, and if there ever were a suitable encore to the Saints post-Super Bowl parade on Lombardi Gras, Bacchus procession of 2010 was it. On every front, Bacchus struck the right note this year. Congratulations to this years Best Overall parade winner!
Le Krewe dÉtat 4.5
Le Krewe dÉtat turned up the heat with a classics-inspired theme (DÉtats Inferno: A Not-So-Divine
Comedy) that ranks as one of the best ever for a satirical krewe. Mayor Nagins ears must have burned all night. A lead float featured the gates to City Hell (which opened and closed) and set the infernal tone early by proclaiming, Abandon all hope, ye who enter. DÉtats targets were well chosen, even if some of the jokes were not as sharp as others, such as those aimed at reality-show staples Jon and Kate or the Scratch My Itch float about career politicians. The Dancing Dilibertos added a timely Super Bowl touch along with the final float, Paradiso, which honored Saints QB Drew Brees in a hell that had frozen over.
This years theme, The Mythology of Astrology, was first presented by Proteus 100 years ago. I can barely recollect Proteus 1910 parade, but this years march of the wagon wheels was spectacular, especially Royal Artists well-crafted floats, including Libra the Balance (with the goddess holding scales), Aquarius the Water Bearer, and Aries the Ram (with spring flowers). With 12 bands, the krewe was never short on musical accompaniment, and the U.S. Marine Corps Band played a rousing version of its hymn as well as the citys hymn, When the Saints Go Marching In.
Fables of Fire and Flame was a fitting theme for Rex because it lends itself to the brightly colored floats this krewe creates every year, including the old favorites such as Boeuf Gras. The float depicting Hades had the god of the underworld emerging from bold, glittering flames. Floats depicting Huehueteotl, the Aztec fire deity, and the fabled phoenix were similarly striking. Riders wore costumes that corresponded perfectly with the floats. Throws were abundant if somewhat predictable, and riders hurled many bags of beads to the appreciative crowds.
Alla picked a good game plan early, paying timely tribute to Louisiana sports, especially football. Floats depicted the Saints, Hornets, Zephyrs, Zurich Classic and Louisiana Derby. Crowd-pleasing props included figures of Reggie Bush and Chris Paul. Riders masked throughout, and the captain and maids feathered collars featured 3-D sports figures animating LSU football, the Saints and other teams. The parade had a full array of bands, including good showings by O. Perry Walker, Edna Karr and E.L. Rabouin high schools.
Though rained out on Thursday night, Babylon rolled on a sunny Sunday morning. That meant losing a number of bands, but Babylons Masks of Men theme and 19 beautiful floats won over early rising revelers. Led by a horse-drawn kings carriage, the ensuing floats featured giant masks, including Japanese noh masks as well as Balinese, African and Hindu masks. A shiva mask decorated one float with colorful matching riders. Waves of applause met the Day of the Dead float and its poncho- and sombrero-adorned, skull-masked riders. While other krewes tend to move slowly, the fast-paced Knights allowed little time for an abundance of Mardi Gras trinkets.
This crowd favorite, Mid-City-to-downtown parade hosted a magically inspired procession with the theme Abracadabra. Saints-themed throws like championship pennants and T-shirts inspired Who Dat? chants, while light-up swords and fleur-de-lis necklaces moved collegians to scream for beadage. The multi-tiered, multi-truck floats met the krewes high standards awe-inspiring blinking lights and glittering costumed riders and the magical theme spanned the globe for inspiration to fit a parade of its grand size. A Magicians float featured two galloping rabbits on its front and back, and the Baba Yaga float paid homage to the mythical Slavic witch.
Hermes put on a stunningly beautiful parade illustrating the Egyptian bestiary. In recent years, Hermes has stood out for telling a specific story in a float-by-float progression of chapters. This years procession lacked that sort of narrative, but the floats were brilliantly painted, featured lavish 3-D flowers and ornamentation, and the props excelled particularly Kuum the ram figure (mans body/rams head), Seth the hippopotamus and Khonsu the baboon. Hermes had a fine lineup of bands; Warren Easton High School and Xavier Preparatory School stood out. Costumes were as bright as the floats.
Childrens Classics wasnt an original theme, but the women of Iris portrayed it with cleverness and attention to detail, such as placing fresh flowers on the queens float. Nobody beats Iris when it comes to costuming, and the reindeer get-ups for The Night Before Christmas as well as the wolfish attire for The Three Little Pigs really stood out. The floats were large and colorful, befitting a childs imagination, and the serpent curling out of a basket next to the lamp on the Aladdin float brought me back to my own childhood.
Muses marked its Valentines Eve-ish parade with Muses Guide to Love and Romance. This all-ladies krewe sets high standards for itself, but this years effort lacked the groups usually razor-sharp wit. The more amusing floats included Give Appropriate Gifts, with a big vacuum cleaner prop on front; Size Matters, featuring a gargantuan diamond; and Ill Wax Mine if You Wax Yours, showing a mans back. Even on a rescheduled night, Muses offered its share of good bands. Muses also stands out for its marching groups, including the Camel Toe Lady Steppers and the new 610 Stompers and Muff-a-Lottas.
Thirty marching bands, 30 flower-bedecked floats, horse-drawn chariots and prodigious
numbers of flambeaux kept the super in this superkrewe. The theme, Delectable Delights, was minimally reflected in the floats and costumes, eclipsed by the citys unofficial theme: Saints-mania. O. Perry Walker High Schools baton girls stood out by creating a unique serpentine formation, and Walter L. Cohen High Schools marching band featured stellar musicianship and attitude. Celebrity monarch Sean Peyton extended the Lombardi Trophy for all revelers to touch, providing a great opening note for this krewe. Unfortunately, many flambeaux didnt even function. I look for an improvement next year.
The eclectic All Mixed Up cocktail theme has been done before, but this well-executed procession had costumes matching floats. Floats such as Sex on the Beach and Fog Cutter stood out. With 42 floats, Thoth took a while to pass, but the weather was glorious and the marching bands, especially those from Archbishop Shaw High School and Holy Cross High School, kicked things up to match the crowds enthusiasm. Any reveler who didnt walk away with at least two bags of booty which included T-shirts, spears, footballs, plush flowers and palm trees just wasnt trying.
Tucks Faces Reality was a satirical smash with bitingly funny floats, including The Deadliest Catch: Swine Flu and Survivor: New Orleans, which featured the evacuation challenge. The parade featured 18 marching bands, starting with the multi-talented Panorama Jazz Band. This year, Tucks also featured the 10th anniversary of Susan Cowsills Pink Slip Band. Tucks has a number of small marching groups like the Ducks of Dixieland and an entourage of Star Wars geeks, The East Alpha Garrison, which make this a unique and very satisfying parade. Kudos to Tucks for winning Best Day Parade honors this year!
With the Marine Corps marching bands powerful When the Saints Go Marching In leading the way, Zulu featured a catch-all theme (Zulu Travels Destinations of the World) for its 101st parade. Black-faced riders, including an extravagant peacock head-dressed duke, threw a generous helping of Zulu emblem beads, flying discs and other trinkets from more than 50 floats. New Orleans Saints receivers Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, along with retired running back Deuce McAllister, rode in Zulu this year, much to the crowds delight. Among the 12 marching bands, St. Augustine High Schools Marching 100 really stood out.
Caesar answered its own question and theme What Time is It? with 27 floats such as Election Time, which included the poster Brees for Mayor. Im not sure why Closing Time wasnt the final float, and my bewilderment only grew when Half-Time closed out the procession. The Show Time costumes with Phanton of the Opera masks featuring fleurs de lis were quite clever. The marching bands played their hearts out, and Rummel High Schools version of the Led Zeppelin classic Immigrant Song proves that golden heavy-metal music is ripe for re-harvesting as Carnival fare.
The ladies of Cleopatra know how to dress the part. Their movie-quote theme, Those Famous Words, was delightful, and details such as the Marilyn Monroe float riders wearing platinum wigs made it even better. I wish the krewe donned masks instead of sunglasses, but this ladies krewe did offer a plethora of outstanding throws Saints footballs, plush spears and lighted swords and numerous bands.
The Krewe of Mid-City always stands out for its aluminum foil floats custom-designed by artist Ricardo Pustanio, whose executions look more like shiny Christmas presents than typical Mardi Gras fare. Sometimes the intricate designs of the floats obscure the theme, however, which was the case with Mid-City Gets Lucky. On the Lucky Strike float, the small bowling pins got lost among the rest of the decorations. Other memorable floats included Lucky Dogs and Luck of the Draw. The costumes were colorful, but didnt always match the floats. Throws were generous, and more than a dozen marching bands from many surrounding parishes entertained the crowd.
This years Pygmalion procession was quite an improvement over last year. The krewe employed a familiar theme, Mardi Gras Past and Present, but its always fun to be reminded of Carnivals history. There were eight marching bands, with St. Augustine High School leading the way. The Warren Easton High School band played the Ying Yang Twins ubiquitous Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk), but the bands exquisitely gyrating dancers prompted me to trip the light fantastic.
Carrollton had beautiful weather for its world tour parade, led by the Jesuit High School band. The destination theme, Its a Small World, can be tiring, but the Ellis Island float with its American symbols was inspiring. The Were Going to Disney Bless You Boys was a good idea, but the Mickey Mouse cigarette-smoking sculpture on the front of the float was not. The dancing and swaying St. Pauls High School band and the Brother Martin High School band were memorable.
The Krewe of Choctaw marked its 75th anniversary with some historic krewe events depicted on floats, such as its boat parade and the place and time of the clubs founding. The invasion of Austria from the year of the clubs creation seemed a bit of a stretch. Costumes were inconsistent, with many riders wearing face paint and baseball caps or Saints jerseys. Band highlights included the West St. John Rams and the U.S. Marine Corps Band from Albany, Ga., at the front of the procession.
King Arthur 3
The krewes theme, What a Long Strange Trip Its Been Celebrating 10 Years in Downtown New Orleans, was confusing. Mary Poppins at the head of a Proud Mary float with modified Creedence Clearwater Revival lyrics (People in the White House are Happy to Give) was too complex. The marching bands, however, were a welcome contrast to the rock bands (McMain High School kicked it up) and I proudly wore my favorite catch a headband with two Saints pompoms on springs to the Big Game.
Now in its 60th year, Okeanos drew large crowds for its Valentines Day ride. The Will You Be Mine? theme depicted romantic New Orleans dates, such as riverboat rides, riding on a streetcar and going to a Saints game. Archbishop Rummel High Schools marching band led the procession, and a pointy-haired Vince Vance serenaded the crowds. The riders costumes matched float titles, with Lady and the Tramp riders donning dog headdresses. Throws were generous, if predictable.
Morpheus gets bigger each year, and its good to see a parade grow. Morpheus Dreams of the Classics spun a familiar theme. Floats included The Wizard of Oz, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, and I Love Lucy which suggests the term classics had considerable elasticity. Krewe members obviously enjoyed themselves and threw generously, but there were too many unmasked riders for my taste. On a busy night, however, Morpheus presented a good lineup of marching bands, including those from Archbishop Shaw and Sarah T. Reed high schools.
N.O.M.T.O.C. marked its 40th anniversary with a roundup of floats about its favorite pastimes. Some made perfect sense, such as basketball, baseball, Saints football and fishing, but Canoeing the Amazon with a deer sporting a huge rack of antlers left me puzzled. Where N.O.M.T.O.C. earns its acronym as New Orleans Most Talked-Of Club is its musical fare. The Southern University band was impressive at the head of the parade. Other standouts included O. Perry Walker High School and the Roots of Music band. Costumes were inconsistent and many riders shed masks, but throws were plentiful if bizarre at times plush spears are fine, but whips? Now thats something to talk about!
The Corps de Napoleon presented a tribute to popular songs (Sea of Love, Love Shack, Suspicious Minds) along with its signature Napoleon and Josephine floats and Waterloo, which shot confetti from cannons. Throws were ordinary in design, but riders made sure little ones on the route got all the swag they wanted. Marine Corps and high school marching bands kept things in step, as did a troupe of bagpipers, but gaps were apparent from the start, and many of the floats could have used better lighting for more dramatic effect.
This family-friendly krewe offered something for kids stuffed sea creatures thrown generously by riders and an interactive theme, Can You Name That Idiom? that kept adults occupied trying to guess the theme based on the floats decorations. The marching bands played well, especially the all-girl groups from Xavier University Preparatory School and St. Marys Academy. The costumes, while traditional, could have corresponded better with the floats. The bright and colorful floats typically had one interesting detail, but failed to sustain interest with other elements.
Adonis Me-Thology didnt put a new spin on traditional mythology. Floats included familiar Carnival figures like Poseidon and Mercury. When in Rome Its a Myth and Its Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature failed to inspire. Riders generally had nice costumes, but most lacked connections to individual floats. The De La Salle High School marching band sounded very good, and some fun extras included the Big Easy Roller Girls circling in black and gold.
Ancient Druids 2.5
The Saints Lombardi Gras parade was a tough act to follow, but the Mystic Krewe of Ancient Druids did so with aplomb to a fairly sparse crowd. The 17 floats, nine marching bands and a handful of dance groups kept the procession moving almost too quickly to appreciate the design of the floats. The theme Holes was inventive, and standouts included Key Hole, which had a randy woman visible behind an old-fashioned door keyhole, and Snake Hole, with a lovely cobra in full battle puff. Riders stayed masked but were a bit stingy with throws, which consisted of mostly generic beads, doubloons and cups. Two standout throws were a large medallion water meter cover and a medallion keyhole bead.
Metairies Fat Tuesday procession turned 38 this year with the help of two celebrity riders: Food Network personality Rachael Ray and painter George Rodrigue. Love is in the Air was the theme, with 30 floats and more than a dozen marching bands but why were the maids dressed as TV shows? Riders stayed in costume and delighted the audience on Veterans Boulevard with plenty of throws for the kids, but once again this year commercial floats knocked down Argus score. Plus, a giant liquor bottle should have no place in what bills itself as a family parade.
Centurions executed a colorful procession on a frigid night, rewarding those who turned out with lots of beads and toys. Partying with Centurions floats included Beach Party, with scenes from Pontchartrain Beach, and City Park Picnic, featuring a train engine and scenes of the carousel at City Park. Others were more generic, such as Party Food, featuring beignets and coffee and a muffaletta. Hats off for the lovely feather-backed headdresses of the maids and dukes, which were decorated to match the themes of their floats.
Though not very original, the krewe stuck to its Knight Time Stories theme with floats depicting stories like The Cat in the Hat and Hansel and Gretel. A dead ringer for Capt. Jack Sparrow led a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed float. Finding Nemo was the one float that felt out of place, and the riders costumes with the exception of krewe royalty rarely matched the floats. However, the riders kept their masks on and were generous with throws. The dance teams from dance companies like Dance Connection and high schools like Mt. Carmel Academy stole the show from the seven fine marching bands.
I was happy that Oshun was spared the downpour of the previous two years, and for a smaller parade, eight bands was quite impressive especially the Roots of Music marching band. Unfortunately, this krewe needs to be more original and more generous with its throws. The theme, What a Laugh, was well executed, and the House of Payne float was a nice salute to the television shows creator, native New Orleanian Tyler Perry.
Spartas theme Realm of Rhyme confounded me. The floats featured Mother Goose nursery rhymes, but also fairy tales, which are neither rhymes nor poems. The Dr. Seuss float, Happy Mardiwompsis Grastumpsis, was an admirable effort, and this years eight marching bands more than doubled the previous years three. Overall, however, it felt more like a forced march than a walk on the Carnival side.
This years theme was Popular Personalities, and the parade was full of them. Former Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson led the parades 24 floats, which included depictions of Cinderella, Shakespeare, Cleopatra and other real and fictional characters. Some floats, such as those featuring Robin Hood and Camelot, seemed all too familiar. Others, such as The King & I and The Black Knight, didnt seem to depict any personalities in particular, and there were two Mulan floats. The standout float featured a giant Lucille Ball flanked by bright pink riders and decorations.
Atlas riders seemed a little overtaken with Saints fever. The theme was apparently Library of the Imagination, but Who Dat would have been more apt. One floats illustrations were even obscured by a large sign bearing the phrase. The parade had an overall sloppy feel with visibly drunk or drinking riders, a theme that encompassed everything from Patti Cakes to the Disney movie Mulan, and float numbers that skipped around. There also was some theme overlap with the preceding Excalibur parade (both had Dr. Seuss-themed floats, for example), and too many riders failed to keep their masks on.
The theme, Childrens Bedtime Stories, was somnolent, which can be good when youre putting the kids to bed, but not for Carnival. Many of the floats were recycled, featured too few riders and were not well lit. The Pigs Flying and Hell Freezing Over float, dedicated to the Saints, was my favorite, and perhaps will become a sleepy-time tale for New Orleans tykes for years to come. The City of Kenner Dance Team, complete with hot pink boots, enthusiastically worked their Terpsichorean movements, and the Marrero Middle School marching band played with gusto.