Jun 24, 201309:16 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
What Has Happened to the Suburban Carnival?
Recently we saw the Krewe of Alla (whose name is an acronym for Algiers Louisiana) announce that it would moves its parade across the river to the already overcrowded St. Charles route, which is now also traversed by two other former West Bank parades; Cleopatra and Choctaw.
This is the latest in the declines of the suburban parades, others of which have just folded. There are some solid groups, such as the Jefferson Parish Krewe of Caesar, but for the most part the suburban carnival is marching on shaky ground. What happened? Some answers:
Emergence of the Super Krewes
Last year Endymion introduced a new tandem float depicting the former Pontchartrain Beach amusement park. That seven-part float alone had approximately 350 riders, more than some entire parade krewes used to have. Many of Endymion's riders, as does its leadership, come from the suburbs. If a person is going to spend money on a parade he can either be part of a big show, such as a super krewe, ride before huge crowds and have a glitzy event to attend after, or ride in a parade that is often short of floats, bands and spectators. Not only have the so-called super krewe syphoned away riders, but aggressive Uptown mainstays such as Thoth have expanded their ridership. Muses is drawing women from all over and Le Krewe D’Etat is attracting people by its hipness. The fun parades are still in the city.
Jefferson Parish's Mardi Gras art at the corner of Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Sena Drive
Several years ago when the Krewe of Mid-City moved from its natural marching ground along Canal Street to St. Charles Avenue, one of the given reasons was the need to attract new riders. St. Charles, with its oak trees, mansions, folks barbecuing on the neutral ground, waves of college students and family gatherings, is the Broadway of Carnival. There just isn’t a better route for a Carnival parade, perhaps in the world. (Endymion is an exception having stuck with the Canal Street route but it is such a spectacle that it creates a party out of wherever it goes.)
Rather than riding on a float rolling past suburban strip malls, riders want to see the glitz of the city.
With some exceptions, suburban parades are to Carnival what Fat City was to the French Quarter, an attempt to imitate the phenomena but without any history or structure. In Jefferson Parish there have been some commendable attempts to tighten the regulations for the parades but too many krewes are still sloppy. The main selling point for parades outside the city has been to emphasize the parades as “family” activities, but that doesn’t always sit right with people who see “family” as a euphemism for nothing particularly interesting. With a lot more to offer visually, St. Charles Avenue and part of the Quarter can be a family attraction, too.
And Now, An Alternative
There is still a place for Carnival in the suburbs but it does not have to be pasting together tired parades. Why not something different? “Family Gras” on the east bank of Jefferson is a terrible name, but the concept is good. Have more music celebrations. Expand those into block parties that reach into the neighborhoods. There can still be masking and hoopla without the need for waiting for a krewe to pass. Give the suburban Carnival a character of its own.
Let the city do what it does best and let the suburbs celebrate within their character as a collection of small towns and subdivisions. With less imitation and more imagination the suburban Carnival can enrich the entire Mardi Gras celebration. Someone just has to dare to be different.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is due to be released Oct. 31, 2013. It is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
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