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Mardi Gras 2016 Overview
Posted: February 17, 2016
My media schedule does not allow me to see as many parades as I would like, so my review of the season is based upon my own observations, plus that of a handful of trusted Mardi Gras veterans. Parading krewe captains were also polled for their opinions.
THE GOOD NEWS
In general Mardi Gras has never been healthier.
We have fewer parades than pre-Katrina, but better ones.
I cannot recall a parade season where not a single parade experienced rain but that was the case this year. The only weather-related issue was high winds on Lundi Gras night.
Parade attendance was solid, but not record setting. Airport traffic however, did set a record, while hotel occupancy was slightly down, typical when Fat Tuesday falls early. The number of floats in Orleans Parish totaled 819, an-all-time high.
There was great concern in law enforcement circles about possible terror-related incidents this year, which, fortunately did not materialize.
The return of Gallier Hall as a Carnival venue was a plus this year.
Two of the season's most anticipated parades did not disappoint-Endymion's 50th anniversary procession, and the Nyx parade, which now features more than 2,200 riders.
While the West Bank lost the Grela parade, for the first time in years, there was growth in the number of parades in Metairie and in St. Tammany Parish. Clearly the most impressive debut was made in Slidell by the Krewe of Poseidon, whose parade was easily up to the standards of most New Orleans parades.
Parade captains in Jefferson Parish are hopeful that new Parish President Mike Yenni will work to improve conditions in Metairie.
Napoleon's move to the first Sunday enhanced the Family Gras celebration.
The undermanned NOPD did a terrific job handling 35 parades, with better pacing this year.
There were fewer reported incidents of "throw-backs" this year.
The interest in specialty throws continues, as interest in plain beads, cups, and doubloons wanes. Some krewes such as Rex tossed float-specific pillows, beads, and cups.
With the exception of Endymion, which announced in September that Stephen Tyler and Pitbull would headline their post-parade Extravaganza, celebrity announcements were very late. Bacchus's first black King, local actor Anthony Mackie, was a big hit with the crowd.
The Krewe of Argus saluted Fox 8 retiring weatherman Bob Breck as the club's grand marshal in 2016. New Orleans resident, Solange Knowles, rode as Honorary Muse for the 2016 parade, while Orpheus featured Nathan Fillion.
For the first week, parade viewers had been able to stand on the tiny space on the neutral ground side between the curb and the construction site fencing on Napoleon Avenue between Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue. For safety reasons, the entire area was off limits, pushing those crowds to the "sidewalk side" on the second weekend.
Because of the fire that destroyed a building the 1000 block of Canal Street two weeks ago, Endymion, Zulu, and the truck parades had to cross Canal Street to avoid that block.
There was a great amount of confusion about the starting point for Iris, which eventually began at Carondolet and Napoleon.
It was nice to see an aging Pete Fountain riding in his Half-Fast Walking Club parade.
The Krewe of Proteus presented a rider-less horse in its parade, a salute to recently deceased former Captain Beau Bassich.
The Mardi Gras Indians appeared in several parades, and the Jefferson City Buzzards led the Caesar parade in Metairie.
This parade season was not without its issues. The first Sunday's schedule of four parades uptown simply does not work if all wish to parade during the day. Some Alla riders, who boarded their floats at 11 AM for a 1 PM start, weren't in the disband area until 9:30 PM. Clearly one parade needs to add lights to its floats and parade at night. And seniority would be the fairest way to select the parade that moves.
NOMTOC should not be rushed through its route in Algiers. So brisk was the pace that their popular walking club, the Jugmen, had to pull out.
Parade ladders are not being placed six feet back as mandated.
Once again there was confusion at the end of the route for the truck parades of Elks Orleanians and Crescent City, which were forced to travel to the east when many intended to go west.
A few captains observed that parades in New Orleans received a disproportionate amount of media coverage.
The roping off of neutral ground areas and the erection of mini "tent cities" continue to be a problem, as does the participation of underage marchers.
The space between Lee Circle and Gallier Hall is almost totally occupied by reviewing stands, leaving very little room for parade viewing on the street.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?
Several people report that on triple-header parade nights or with exceptionally long single parades, many parade viewers abandon the route before the parade is half way over. Float riders complain that there is no one to throw to. Bands placed near the end of the parades are getting back to school early in the morning. Something has to be done to address this situation.
Fat Tuesday is later-February 28.
We have already starting making our plans.
2016 Mardi Gras Review
Posted: February 15, 2016
2016 Review of the Carnival Season will be posted Wednesday, awaiting results of a survey
of parading krewe captains. Stay tuned.
MY RIDE IN REX
Posted: February 14, 2016
Hardy in Rex 2016
With the exception of Mardi Gras 1994, when I traveled to Philadelphia to be on QVC's live Mardi Gras show, every Fat Tuesday since 1986 I have appeared on local TV covering the day's events. Truth is, I have never ridden in a parade. When the opportunity to ride in Rex this year came my way, I couldn't resist.
More than a few people expressed shock that I, of all people, had never ridden in a Mardi Gras parade. While I have marched in many, starting in 1958 as a student musician and then for many years as a marching band director, I had never set foot on a float-at least not a moving one.
The day started at 7:30 AM with a TV interview on the Fox 8 Live Morning News show in front of my float, the Jester (#3), followed by coffee and breakfast with the King of Carnival inside the den. After dressing in costume, we gathered to salute the raising of the American flag and the Rex flag, as the Marine Corps Band played the National Anthem. After a short walk in the brisk morning air, my float mates and I mounted our float.
I was one of three newbies. My position was the third man, passenger's side. I soon realized I had worn too many layers under my jester outfit. I also learned that there is not much space on a float for bodies, throws, and carry-ons. I simply brought too much stuff.
The float moved more quickly than I had anticipated as we rolled down South Claiborne to the starting point at Napoleon, where we commenced throwing promptly at 10 AM.
There were some heavy hitters on this float, guys who could have had me star struck if they'd wanted, but they were too busy showing us rookies the ropes. Refreshments, liquid and otherwise, were provided courtesy of a member or two. On route, fried chicken was delivered to the float. We were also offered food by several parade watchers, though most of them, clearly Carnival vets, were savvy enough to ask for something in return.
My greatest challenge throughout the day was keeping my jester hat in place. The wind never let up, and the loose rubber band-like string that was supposed to keep the hat tight got stretched to the point that I had to hold the hat on with my left hand while trying to throw with my right.
Although I drank nothing but water on the float, much of the next four hours are a blur to me. Crowds were spirited and larger than I anticipated. We all battled the wind as some throws blew back onto the float. I learned quickly that when the float is in motion the riders can't understand what people on the ground are yelling-pretty good argument for carrying a sign. Establishing eye contact is difficult because of the mask. I had brought on board special packages for family and friends whom I never saw along the route, even though I knew where they were supposed to be standing.
Opening the boxes and unwrapping the throws took time away from throwing them. After a few blocks I got quicker, but not quick enough. I was warned that I would run out of throws, but we actually had more throws on our float than we could toss.
With the permission of the Rex captain, I was allowed to throw a special item, a commemorative doubloon that the Mardi Gras Guide minted in 1984. The gold anodized doubloon was an exact copy of a coin that Rex struck for the first World's Fair in New Orleans in 1884. I tossed about 400 of these. It was fun to see people trying to figure out exactly what they had caught.
While I made myself leave my camera home and kept my notepad in my pocket on this day, I couldn't help taking some mental notes. Parade watchers have become educated about what throws are available and have become very picky, screaming for specific items, while leaving long beads and cups in the street. Parade ladders are not being placed six feet back as mandated, and entire sections of the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground are occupied by miniature tent cities. Additional cover undoubtedly comes in handy on a chilly parade route, but technically tents remain against the law.
While the King was toasted by the Mayor at Gallier Hall, our float was stopped for five minutes at Lee Circle. We wondered who, after 131 years, would replace the general as he looked down on the final Mardi Gras parade to pass in front of his likeness.
The overwhelming take away from my first ride was the obvious joy of the crowds. So many people yelled "thank you" to us. Whether catching throws or just enjoying the four-mile picnic, people were together and they were happy. And for the most part, people were polite. For years I have preached that Mardi Gras is for families, a claim my first ride confirmed in every way. I lost count of the number of people I saw sharing throws when it was obvious they caught a goodie intended for another. If only we could maintain this charitable spirit throughout the year!
My ride ended about 1:30 PM. I was sorry this wonderful experience was over. It was first class in every way. Most float riders took chartered busses back to the den, but I walked back to the hotel to meet up with my family. My right (throwing) arm was sore, and my legs were tired. After a two-hour nap and some sandwiches, I climbed into white tie and tails and my wife and I embarked on a short walk to the Rex Ball at the Sheraton Hotel. I was too tired to stay for the meeting of the courts and ended up watching it back at the hotel on WYES.
Special doubloons thrown Fat Tuesday
2016 MARDI GRAS REVIEW
Posted: February 10, 2016
Saturday I will post my annual review of the Carnival season and report on my ride in the Rex parade (FABULOUS!)
Happy Lundi Gras!
Posted: February 08, 2016
Today I will appear live on Hoda Kotb's SiriusXM Radio show at 1:40 PM.
During the FOX 8 newscasts at 4 PM and 5 PM I will report from the Riverwalk where Zulu and Rex will arrive.
Tonight during the 9 PM newscast on Fox 8, I take a look at the history of Gallier Hall and its connection to Carnival.
Happy Mardi Gras!
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