Welcome to Stan’s Selection for Mardi Gras, this is my 23th edition of my guide to Mardi Gras, its free and is based on years of photographing Mardi Gras and enjoying one of the more unique events in the world. The recommendations I will be making are by no means definitive and you may choose to attend different events as the mood suits you. Here is some background information and dates.
Mardi Gras can happen any Tuesday from February 3 through March 9. The date is actually set by the Catholic Church (based on the cycle of the moon) which sets the dates for Easter and Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is always 46 days before Easter, so the date always changes. This year 2019 Fat Tuesday the end of the Mardi Gras season, is March 5 and that is pretty much as late of the potential dates for Mardi Gras as it can get. The majority of the parade season is generally 12 days before Ash Wednesday and in the four Parish areas around the city there will be something on the order of 70 parades. This supplement to my guide to New Orleans is hoped to be a very rough guide to getting around during the carnival season and events that Aimee my photo co-pilot, and I attend.
There is no one parade or theme to Mardi Gras. Each parade is organized around a Krewe, a generic term for the organization that puts each parade together. These are usually private societies that charge dues and other fees to offset the cost of putting the parades, private balls and parties. These parades take different routes and parades can often occur at the same times in different parts of the four parish area. As of this printing, I still didn’t have some of the details for the 2019 parades, for instance the “Canal Loop” has been eliminated and the route of most of the uptown parades shortened at the end and may parades are now starting at Jefferson and Napoleon so check with the Times-Pic. Another great resource is the Arthur Hardy Guide, a magazine you can buy just about everywhere that has a lot of information in it ($4.99) (As many times as I’ve been to Mardi Gras, I ALWAYS buy a copy). I will be in New Orleans from Thursday until Wednesday morning for the full treatment. If you cannot be there that long, I recommend Sunday to Tuesday night, it doesn’t begin to get really interesting until Monday and Tuesday is in a class by itself. There will no doubt be lots of traffic delays so plan ahead and allow more time to get to where you need to go. Be warned about “drunken frat boy night” (saturday night) on Bourbon street, it is not for the faithearted and Aimee and I usually skip that night. The weather for a Mardi Gras can be quite the range, warm in the day, cool to cold at night (a damp cold). Be sure to bring rain gear and something for those cool nights standing around waiting for the parade to start. A couple of years ago it poured most of Fat Tuesday, so something to protect your gear is not a bad idea. Here are some of my favorites. See you on the streets!
Saturday, March 2, Iris, start time 11:00am Founded in 1917 is the oldest parade for women. Prides itself in strictly following the tradition of wearing masks and white gloves during the parade. 36 floats, and they all throw a wide variety of Frisbees, coasters, garters, pink doubloons, the usual beads, and as I found out last year – commemorative underwear. It begins on S. Clairborne East of Napoleon and anywhere along St. Charles is as good a place as any to see it. Ends at Convention Center Blvd. This years Theme is “TBA”.
Saturday, March 2, Tucks, start time noon Known for its zany antics and often irreverent attitudes, this parade was started by two Tulane students and is named in part from the name of a local bar. Parade hit the big time in 1986 when its parade route stretched downtown. 34 floats and 1200 male and female members. Look for the toilet seat float. This year the theme is “TBA” and a new 40 foot Queens Float. Begins at Perrier and Napoleon and ends at Canal and Decatur. Best/easiest view is along St. Charles or on Napoleon between Perrier and St. Charles.
Saturday, March 2, Endymion, start time 4:15 pm One of the “Super Clubs” with over 2,000 members, this is one that many would not want to miss. Very large and running 25 ornate floats and seven tandem floats. 2013 marks the introduction of a new super float “Pontchartrain Beach”, 330 feet long and holding 230 riders! A very popular parade. In the past, I tried to see this on Canal and the crowd was crushing downtown. This year among other trinkets, they are planning to throw one million cups to the crowds. Get there early. The “neutral ground” will be filled with people camping out for days prior to the parades start. Its estimated that over 1,000,000 people will line the parade route so you need to be “in position” at LEAST two hours before the parade starts. Parking will be VERY difficult. This year, 2019 TBA will be Grand Marshall. The Theme this year is “Wonder Tales of Science Fiction”. This year the parade, like last year, will run its Mid City route. It starts at City Park and Orleans and ends at the Superdome.
Sunday, March 3, Bacchus, start time 5:15 pm One of the more spectacular parades. Very large crowds, and parking is very difficult anywhere near the parade route. You really need to get where you want to be at least an hour and a half before. I always see this one at the start and end up at Frankie and Johnnie for dinner. Watch for the 110 foot Bacchagator float. Thirty one super floats and lots of goodies thrown to the crowd. The Parade of 31 floats and over 1,400 riders will start on Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas and travel down St. Charles to Canal, back onto Tchoupitoulas to Julia and ends at the convention center. For 2019 the title is “Starring Louisiana” and TBA is the King of Bacchus. This year they will also run 30 marching bands! If you want to see the tradition of the “King” getting onto his float, go to the intersection of Tchoupitoulas and Napoleon before it all starts.
Monday March 4 Lundi Gras Day! Proteus, start time 5:15 pm More tradition bound than most and the floats are based on the old wagons with solid wheels. This one has 35 Flambeaux and 25 riders on horseback. I do not have a lot of the details, but the route is supposed to be the St. Charles route and it will run before Orpheus and ends right at Napoleon and Magazine. This years Theme is “TBA”.
Tuesday March 5, Zulu, start time approx. 8:00 am (usually late) One of the more unique parades. Begun by the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club in 1916. This parade is made up of primarily black men and a honor guard called the Soulful Warriors who hand out the much desired Zulu Coconuts, to the very lucky few. Fifteen floats with lots of marching bands and an seemingly endless number of smaller floats for the various officers and dukes and princesses. Second unites like the Baby Dolls and the famous Olympia Brass Band march with them. What a way to begin Fat Tuesday. Begins at Magnolia and Jackson, down St. Charles and Canal and ends at Armstrong Park. Take your pick as to where to be, a very popular parade. I like the beginning so I can see the Rex parade as well. Another tactic which I am now doing is to see this one at the end, along Rampart. For 2019 the theme is “TBA”, and (update soon) is the celebrity monarch.
Tuesday, March 5, Rex, start time 10:00 am One of the best known and famous parades founded in 1872. The parade Captain leads the parade on a white stallion and is followed by 33 mounted lieutenants. Twenty-seven floats will be running this year and this is also one of the big, popular parades. Begins at Claiborne and Napoleon and runs down St. Charles to Canal and ends at Canal and St. Peters. This year, 2019, the theme is “TBA” If you are working the Zulu parade you will need to be at the beginning. See this one and head for the French Quarter. Below is the map for the Zulu parade:
Other Parades and Marching clubs: (If you’re really a parade animal, try to make these too)Sunday March 3, Okeano, start time 11:00 am. Also runs down St. Charles to Canal (the same route as Thoth), usually follows right after Thoth, this years theme is “TBA”, 21 floats.
Sunday March 3, Mid city, start time 11:45 am. One of the more unusual parades, all the floats are decorated with colored metal foil. Runs down the St. Charles route, 18 floats, this year it’s called “TBA”
Tuesday FEB 13, Society of Saint Anne, start time approx 10 am Started in 1969, this is a New Orleans Mardi Gras marching krewe that parades each Mardi Gras Day. Known for the very elaborate and beautiful costumes of its members, the core group gathers in the Bywater neighborhood (usually Bud Rips tavern) of New Orleans each Mardi Gras morning, with the Storyville Stompers brass band providing the music. As they pass through the Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter, additional costumed marchers join the parade at various coffee-shops and bars along the route. The marches continue to Canal Street to watch the Rex Parade, then return into the French Quarter. Don’t be surprised to come across them on Royal St. in the Quarter.
Tuesday March 5, The Half-Fast Walking Club is a New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe led by Pete Fountain. Originally all on foot, in recent decades it has also featured one or two small floats. Fountain and other local jazz musicians play through much of the parade. The krewe’s current route, basically unchanged since the mid-1970s, starts very early on Mardi Gras morning, at world famous Commander’s Palace Restaurant on Washington Avenue in the Garden District. The krewe then proceeds downtown on St. Charles Avenue and after a brief interlude on Canal Street, enters the French Quarter at Bourbon Street winds around the Quarter and eventually ends up at the New Orleans Riverfront Hilton in the early afternoon. The “Half-Fast” is one of the best known marching Krewes that parades in New Orleans on Mardi Gras morning. Pete passed away this past year so there may be something special this year to honor him or his passing.
Stan’s Advice for Photographers:
Bring the equipment you are familiar with or at least fully tested and get to know the hardware. Long lenses have limited value; I prefer the wide angles myself due to the close quarters I am often working in. I have shot medium format in the past but DSLR’s are lighter and easier to pack.Recently, both Aimee and I have started shooting Bourbon street with our Fuji XPro2 cameras as they are lighter and less obvious. We will be working a lot of the night parades and the French Quarter at night so a good flash is a must.The photo department at WU has some Vivitar 283’s set-ups for sign out during this trip as well as a selection of Nikon portable flash unites. I would get the jumbo 40 pack of AA batteries at Lowes or Home Depot. According to Consumers Report, there is little performance difference between the various alkaline batteries, so price shop. A light tripod might be useful, but I have not used one in past Mardi Gras’ myself. Filters on all lenses are a must as there are lots of airborne debris around during parades, not to mention those “poppers” the kids are always throwing during parade lulls. Don’t forget your iPhone for Instagrams but the networks during parade are almost always jammed. Although I do not usually shoot a lot with it, I always being my film camera to New Orleans and my go to film is HP-5. On a gray cloudy day, it can be a good option. I do not know where to buy Ilford HP-5 in the city of New Orleans, the last “real” camera store is out in Metairie.
Bring plenty of SD (or CF) cards if you use them, I like the class 10 generic Micro Center SD16 gig cards for $9.00, a real deal. I am unaware of any deals for CF cards.Bring an extra hard drive to insure lots of back up, you’ll need your laptop to dump the days work and see what you’ve been shooting. An extra camera battery is also a very good idea-I usually bring 2 extras with me depending on the camera I am using. I am also pretty paranoid so I bring extra cables and duplicate just about everything. The last thing you want to do during Mardi Gras is to have something fail and spend valuable shooting time trying to track down replacement gear. Do not forget your battery charger!
What to Wear
The weather during Mardi Gras can do just about anything short of snowing. This year Mardi Gras is later but you never know. I will dress for cool evenings and warm days (we hope), and it often rains in February in New Orleans so some form of quality rain-wear is in order. Speaking of rain, consider what you’ll do with your gear if it starts raining and you’re a mile or two from your car. In 2014, it poured rain on Fat Tuesday.You’ll also do a lot of walking, so bring comfortable shoes. I always bring a spare set..In the parades and often in the French Quarter, there are lots of sloppy drunks with open containers, so I never bring a good coat, it only gets beer or worse spilled on it. Generally speaking you are not going to be going into the kind of places you need to dress well in.
Other Stuff to Bring:
I always bring a small notebook to make field notes with or to take directions or to note the location of my parked car. You wouldn’t be the first person to park their car during Mardi Gras and forget where it was. I also make sure to bring some business cards, people you photograph will often ask for prints, I like MOO.COM for photo business cards and actually have a set with images of Mardi Gras on them. Use this link and get a discount!
Crime and Punishment:
“Send Lawyers, Guns and Money-The Shit Has Hit The Fan”
These are a few of the many, many parades happening. The key thing to remember is that when the parades are running, all traffic stops. The cops do not care about your problems, this road is closed. All parking along parade routes is prohibited 2 hours before and after parade time and they do tow cars along the parade route ($100.00 fine). If your car is towed, you can find it at 400 N. Claiborne, sorry no out of town checks accepted. Also watch for the posting of temporary signs along parade routes. Security is good during the day and most day parades are safe even downtown. Many parades run down St. Charles between Napoleon and Lee Circle, the center grassy island is one giant picnic area, more family oriented and not as aggressive crowds looking for “throws”. Be very cautious of the parades downtown at night, and in particular be careful parking in out of the way places. It is usually safer to park up in the garden district or near Tulane and take the trolley downtown if you are going to the quarter or to see a parade along Canal. There is for all practical purposes, no parking around the quarter during Mardi Gras at night. In fact you need a pass even to drive into most of the Quarter. If your car is towed call 565 7450 to confirm. They take MasterCard, Visa, or Traveler Checks.
In particular be careful after the parade has passed and the cops have moved on. Watch out for groups of pre teen and teens roaming about looking for those who look like victims. If you are into partying in the quarter at night and do park a ways away, you might want to write the address down, you would not be the first person to forget where they put their car. The city can be very disorienting, particularly after a few hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s. Bourbon Street in particular, will be filled with drunken frat boys, party animals, and pick pockets and hustlers. Try not to carry a purse, and put your wallet in a front pocket. Carry only as much money as you can afford to loose. I wear my camera under my coat, it protects it from being lifted off my shoulder and from spilled booze from sloppy drunks. Avoid getting caught in the middle of the block on Bourbon Street, the crowd can be crushing, and if you’re a person of small stature, you can get the worst of it. I like to work the intersections of the cross streets, it’s easier to get out of there if there is trouble or the crowd suddenly starts moving.
Sadly I need to add something new to this years guide and it pains me to do so. Louisiana and New Orleans in particular it seems just about everybody has a gun these days. Bourbon street used to be a busy, drunken crazy place and safe enough from violence (with the occational drunken fist fight) but there have been incidents of gun play by kuckelheads that are settling some score or slight. If youre in the Quarter later in the evening and you hear fireworks, it my be gun play and act accordingly. There has even been incidents along the parade route of half wits settleing scores and the shooting begins and these guys do not seem to be very skilled. There has also been some incidents of road rage that end in gun play, so just be aware that there are those people out there and avoid escalating events.
The local New Orleans cops can also be a problem. The former U.S. Attorney for Louisiana Eddie Jordan was quoted as saying that corruption runs deep and wide in the department and was “pervasive, rampant and systemic” and even he was run out of office!. In recent years there has been a marked increase in civil rights complaints, 52 times that of New York City. The NOPD is understaffed and generally underpaid and often have a bad attitude. If the cops tell you to move along, there is only one answer, “Yes Sir”. Believe me, the less you have to do with these guys the better. When I really need a cop during Mardi Gras, I try to find a State Trooper, you’re less likely to be ignored or hit on the head. If you get in an accident or simple fender bender, it can take 3-4 hours to get an NOPD officer to respond, so try to work it out without them if no one is hurt.
If you or your friends end up in the slammer, call Central Lockup at 827 6777. The town will be filled with all kinds of law enforcement types, from State Police to corrections officers working to make some extra money. Watch out for the latter, they only get to actually arrest people during Mardi Gras in their job, so some of them are into it in a big way. I always seem to get crossed up with the Motorcycle cops, who in terms of the NOPD culture are generally not the smartest officers on the force. The police have a tactic of whenever there is trouble, to quickly move in and just collar everyone around the disturbance and let them sort it out at Central Lockup. If you do get arrested, it can take a couple of days for the system to spit you out again, so just avoid that and don’t hassle or argue with the cops. In recent years, the big push has been to crack down on public urination. I know this sounds so totally gross and unthinkable, but in any given crowd of drunken types, and at night, and no place else to go, a lot of people do this, men and women! The cops take a very dim view of this and if caught, its a trip into the system. You’re way better off going into any bar (and there is not shortage of them), buy a cheap draft beer, and use the toilet there.
Places to Stay
For more information call 1 (800) 695-2264 for Hotel information, for bed and breakfast information call 1 (800) 749-4640 and for general tourist information call (504) 566-5051. Prices for Mardi Gras are very high and usually there is a minimum number of nights required for a hotel stay. Many hotels also book a year in advance, even for hotels in the outlaying areas. Check my guide to NOLA for our recommendations and in particular the B and B’s.
A lot of people think that Mardi Gras is all about the “flashing”, that is, young women exposing their breasts to the adoring crowds. This is really not an old tradition, some say it only started in the early 70’s.Traditonalist, like Arthur Hardy, are clearly horrified by the entire business. This happens for sure in the French Quarter, day and night, and is generally-very generally, tolerated by the NOPD. Body painting, somehow, seems to be OK. Uptown however, in the more family oriented venues, this behavior is very bad form and you’ll end up in the slammer. In the Quarter, you’ll also see a lot of drunken frat boys, dropping their pants, and the mostly straight NOPD don’t see this as entertaining, and this can end up in jail as well. Women (or men) exposing their pubic regions is also frowned on. A few years back, the Chief of Police, actually published a statement saying that “public sex acts on the streets would no longer be tolerated by the NOPD”, (like you would think oral sex is OK anywhere). Another consideration is that in 2002, Becky Lynn Gritzke, a nice sorority girl from Florida State University, had one too many Hurricanes at Pat’s and flashed to some video camera and did such a great job and was apparently impressive enough that she ended up on a the cover of “Girls Gone Wild” video for that year. They even used her image on a billboard in Florence, Italy! She experienced performer’s remorse, (once Daddy found out) and it went to trial, where she LOST! The judge ruled that exposing yourself on Bourbon Street does not offer any expectation of privacy. Be warned ladies. Walking around unclothed but painted seems to be ok however.
Special Events and Happenings
54 th Annual Bourbon Street awards costume competition at Oz, a bar located at 800 Bourbon Street, 12:00 noon, Feb March 5. TBA is the celebrity judge this year and they will be giving out $3,000 in cash prizes for the best costume. Crowds spill out into the streets, leave the kids at home and check it out. Very, uh, colorful event.
Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) celebration is held on Mardi Gras eve at the Spanish Plaza & Waldenberg Plaza adjacent to the Riverwalk, Poydras Street at the Mississippi River. The festivities begin in the morning and culminate with the king of the Carnival’s arrival at 6:00 pm. The event is free and includes traditional New Orleans music and fireworks. Here’s the schedule of events:
Zulu Lundi Gras Festival 2019
The 25rd Annual Zulu Lundi Gras Festival will take place on Monday, February 8 in Woldenberg Park at the foot of Canal Street, along the Mississippi River in the French Quarter from 3 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. See the arrival of Rex! Fireworks, music, food.
Zulu’s characters begin arriving at 10:30 A.M. and second line to the stage with a brass band to be introduced every 30 minutes until the arrival of the King and Queen at 6:00 P.M
Zulu Golden Nugget Stage
6:00 pm Arrive of Rex, King of Carnival
King Zulu stage:
Mardi Gras Indians Krewes: Historically, membership in a Carnival Krewe was by invitation only. Few in the ghetto could ever participate in the typical Mardi Gras parade. Black neighborhoods developed their own style of celebrating Mardi Gras. They named their “Krewes” for imaginary Indian tribes, like Wild Tchoupitoulas, and Yellow Pocahontas. Allegiances were determined by the streets of their ward or gang, and Indian processions were often secretive, and violent. With police distracted by the general confusion, Mardi Gras was a day to settle scores. In modern times however, its a contest of who wears the most elaborate costume. These processions are very informal, with no schedule or per-determined route. They are very difficult to photograph as you never seem to know when or where they will be. They can also be hard to photograph as they often parade in very crime ridden neighborhoods. Recently, I’ve personally had problems when I’ve found them parading, as they often come across as being exploited by white tourists and professionals from outside their community, I’ve had my camera blocked until I make a “donation” to their tribe or the individual. This can develop into a nasty situation, so be warned these guys can be very unpleasant to outsiders.
Things to avoid during Mardi Gras
Taxi cabs with no meter, Port-O-Lets at night, puddles in the French Quarter, Central Lockup, parking spaces on dark streets, paying to park in someone’s yard that touches a city sidewalk, parking on the parade route or in the French Quarter, buying food from disreputable vendors-(food poisoning), sunrise, credit cards, ATM machines, Pat O’Brien’s at night, calling a cab company during a parade, paying for beads, standing behind horses, going to the bathroom in public, crossing the parade route on Canal Street, driving near a parade route, seeing your parents, meeting friends on Bourbon Street, people who recognize NOLA only from the movies, people who can’t pronounce Schwegmann’s or Tchoupitoulas
Next year 2020, Fat Tuesday is February 25 th! Mark your calendar now.
Special note: If your momma is a lawyer, this is NOT an official site of Washington University or the Sam Fox School. All opinions, bad grammar, misspellings and just jug-headed information are that of an aging, retired professor who has spent too much time doing research on the perfect NOLA bar crawl.