Jan 22, 201309:26 AM
Lifestyles, Galas and Gaiety from St. Charles Avenue Magazine's Morgan Packard
Mardi Gras Advice from a Mardi Gras Veteran
Here I am (right) with my sister-in-law, Elizabeth, at last year's Muses parade, prepping to ride.
This year is the first Carnival season for one of our fellow bloggers, Haley Adams. She's had a lot of questions, so I told her I'd be happy to answer them. As we get closer and closer to Mardi Gras, I hope my answers help you and your friends, even if you've lived here forever. Keep in mind, my answers pertain primarily to the krewes that parade Uptown because that’s what I know. If answers for Jefferson Parish parades, etc., are different, I’d love to know!
Haley Adams: How does someone get in a krewe?
Me: You almost always have to be asked to join. Some krewe memberships are handed down through families, some krewes allow people to sign up (for instance though membership is closed as of now, the Krewe of Muses allowed any woman over 18 to be a member) and sometimes krewes will offer a one-time ride in order to fundraise – for instance the Krewe of Zulu did this for Carnival 2006.
In addition, some krewes (such as King Arthur) offer memberships on their websites.
Are some krewes more exclusive? Can anyone sign up, or do you have to know someone in it?
The general rule of thumb is that the older the krewe, the more difficult it is to join. When someone is unable to ride, often that person – or a fellow krewe member or a float lieutenant – finds a substitute. That sub doesn’t necessarily have to be a member of the krewe. That is both the best way to find out if you would like to ride (some people don’t) and to find out if you like the krewe as a whole.
How much of a commitment is it to be in a krewe? How often do they meet?
The amount of meetings, community-outreach and, yes, how much you have to pay is completely krewe-dependent. Much like having a child, there are many hidden charges and benefits inherent in being a member of a krewe.
Say I want to see a parade at 6 p.m.; how early should I be there to get a good spot?
That depends on which parade you’re seeing. For the first weekend of parades, crowds are typically sparser, and you could walk out when you hear the sirens and/or first marching band of the parade.
For the second group, especially for the very popular “super krewes” – such as Muses, Endymion, Bacchus, Orpheus, etc. – you will need to plan ahead. Find a spot you like (I suggest one that isn’t under a tree or behind a child’s ladder, that’s also in close walking distance to a bathroom and a place to get something to drink and/or eat) and see how it fills up. Don’t become wedded to a spot though, as you might need to move a block this way or that as people who may not have as nice manners as you do may crowd in.
If you’re not a fan of crowds, stand to the back. While most of the crowd pushes up to within or almost touching distance of a float, they’re forgetting that there’s almost always a second story on each float and they’re looking toward the back of a crowd. One caveat: Never stand next to a nun; while it might seem like a good idea because you see all of the krewe members throwing toward them, nuns have amazing catching ability and no one ever takes a throw away from a nun.
What are your favorite parades?
I’m a proud member of Muses, so obviously I love that parade (and we have fantastic jokes on each float as well as amazing throws) but I haven’t seen it live in years. I’m also a proud member of King Arthur, which is a first-weekend parade during Sunday afternoon, and it’s fun and light-hearted. I love Bacchus and Orpheus for their specialized floats (such as the Baccagator and the dragon float respectively), lights and beauty; Zulu is always exciting to watch and Rex is always beautiful; and Krewe d’Etat’s snarky satire brings both laughter and groans.
How much is traffic affected during the busy Mardi Gras week? Does it affect the whole city or only the parade routes?
Traffic is really only affected an hour to two hours before the parade through an hour or so after along the route – and that’s mostly just because the route (for instance the river side of St. Charles Avenue) has to be blocked to through traffic. That means if you want to cross St. Charles, you have to do so before Napoleon (and cross your fingers that you can find a cop who will let you cross Napoleon) or after Canal Street at the edge of the French Quarter.
It’s also important to see on which side the parade is lining up. Most krewes line up along Tchoupitoulas Street and aren’t supposed to throw anything off the float until the official start (for the traditional Uptown route that means the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon avenues). If a parade is lined up on Tchoup (which occurs anywhere between an hour before the parade is scheduled to roll to more than four hours ahead of time), you’ll have to find a way back through the neighborhood or just park and walk to the parade – you’ll have more fun watching the parade than sitting in your car watching it roll by.
A quick tip: if you’re stuck, don’t disregard going to the West Bank on I-10, then turning right around, paying your fee and coming back to the eastbank – sometimes it’s your only hope.
What is the best ball to go to? Are they invitation only?
The balls, like krewe membership, are mostly based on member invitations. Some krewes allow you to purchase tickets from them (including the krewes of Endymion and Cleopatra), but most are invitation-only. Tickets can be expensive, but include live music, encourage dancing and provide food and drinks.
Parading krewes’ balls are a lot of fun because they often give you a more private look at the parade itself (for instance, at the Bacchus Ball the entire parade circles through the convention center). Non-parading krewe balls often include more structured dancing, bowing, maid and queen presentations and tradition, which is its own fun; they are also usually much smaller in terms of invitations and so can feel more intimate and special.