• North Side Skull + Bone Gang

    On Mardi Gras day at 5 a.m., The North Side Skull and Bone Gang leaves the Backstreet Cultural Museum and goes door to door, waking up the neighborhood children and spreading a message of peace. This is a 200-year old tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.

    Chief Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes who dons the iconic antler helmet celebrated his 20th year with the krewe in 2019. The tradition dates all the way back back to 1819. Its roots trace back to African spirituality, but the gang views its role in New Orleans as the “literal meaning of carnival, the shedding of flesh.”

    Historical records show for generations, skeletons and Mardi Gras Indians both roamed the streets of African-American communities in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day, part of community-masking customs that centered more on neighborhoods than on the grand pageantry of Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue.

    Treme neighbors, and visitors who get up early enough to see the gang topped with massive paper skulls or frightening headpieces made of bone, the North Side gang tromping through the streets of old Treme and the 7th Ward, calling out their catchphrase, “You Next!” alternated with an occasional “The End is Near” as they beat drums and dance in the street.

    I attended this event as they marched through the Treme neighborhood. One of the most impressive sites was watching the gang prepare and gather on the museum steps before leaving to wake up the neighbors. I did wonder how the children reacted if they were awoken by these skeleton masked people.

    It’s a tradition to see that isn’t so crowded because it starts so early in the morning and most people are preparing for a long day of parties and Mardi Gras celebrations across the city. It is a truly special Mardi Gras tradition and all visitors are welcome to participate in the march.

  • Society of Saint Anne Krewe

    The Society of Saint Anne is a marching krewe that parades on Mardi Gras day in elaborate costumes. They start in to gather midday in the Bywater neighborhood and march through the Marigny neighborhood into the French Quarter.

    The parade is a popular one for locals and tourists alike to watch as they kick off their Mardi Gras festivities. Many people join the parade as it passes through bars and restaurants that line the parade routes.

    Mardi Gras day is one of the happiest days of the year is you are a New Orleans local. It is the one thing that everyone in the city can agree on. People in the city work all year on planning their Mardi Gras day costume and this is the perfect parade to show off their unique designs.

  • Mardi Gras – Flambeaux

    Flambeaux is a Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans that turned from necessity to a part of history. Flambeaux comes from the French word flambe, meaning “flame.” The first official Mardi Gras flambeaux debuted with the Mystic Krewe of Comus on Fat Tuesday in 1857. In the beginning, the flambeaux were needed for parade watchers to see the Carnival floats at night.

    Originally, the flambeaux carried wooden rudimentary torches, which were staves wrapped with lit pine-tar rags. That evolved to oil-burning lanterns mounted on metal trays and long poles to prevent the flames from burning the carriers. Now they are sometimes elaborate in design and have an updated setup using gravity flow from a reservoir to keep four burners blazing no matter how long the parade might last.

    I love walking to the beginning of the Uptown parade route to watch the lighting of the flames before the parades begin each day. It actually looks like a pretty dangerous activity when you see all the fires and the local fire department on hand.

    It is always a beautiful way to know the parades are coming and always remember to tip your Flambeaux. This is also a New Orleans tradition to give them a dollar as they pass by on the route since they are some of the hardest working parade walkers.

  • Greasing of the Poles

    One of the more unique Mardi Gras traditions is the Greasing of the Poles that takes place on the Friday of Mardi Gras weekend at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street.

    The pole greasing started out for practical reasons to keep people from climbing up the poles at the hotel to the balconies for better views and has transformed into a friendly competition where celebrities grease the poles in the most fun manner in front of a local judging panel.

    This year the tradition will celebrate 50 years in 2020. The public is always invited to gather outside the hotel entrance and this is a wonderfully fun event for the whole family with live music and some local celebrity sightings.

    Get there early for a great spot to view this one-of-a-kind carnival activity!

  • Krewe of Muses

    Krewe of Muses celebrated its 20th birthday this year at the 2020 Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. Organized in 2000, the Krewe of Muses is named after the legendary daughters of Zeus. In Greek mythology, muses were patrons of the arts and sciences, as well as sources of inspiration for artists, poets, philosophers, and musicians.

    This all-female krewe has become one of the most attended parades during all of Mardi Gras on what has become Muses THersday. A Muses signature shoe is one of the most sought after Mardi Gras throws.

    One of my most amazing Mardi Gras experiences was riding in Muses last year. I was able to be a substitute for a friend. Since the Krewe has a waiting list of hundreds of women to join permanently. I was especially lucky to get this opportunity.

    I am not a very crafty person but I quickly learned what it took to make the signature Muses shoe with a crash course from my float captain. I learned to “glitter” which is an action verb during Mardi Gras where I learned how to navigate Hobby Lobby in 3 counties to get enough glitter, shoe decorations and Mod Podge (a special glue) to adorn my thirty shoes to throw to screaming parade-goers. People from all krewes are now glittering so sometimes you have to wait at the craft store for employees to anxiously open boxes for Mod Podge replenishment supplies.

    Mardi Gras parades only started to include women in 1941 and they weren’t always met with the enthusiasm we see today at Muses. The first parades with women had men throwing tomatoes at them in protest. Luckily today several all-female Krewes (NYX, Iris and Femme Fatale) have developed wonderful parades that are some of the most popular throughout the whole celebration.

    This year’s Muses parade was met with a postponement when high winds and rain forced the parade to be moved to Friday in a slightly abbreviated version. On Friday the weather was perfect for the krewe to roll and the streets were lined with Muses fans competing for a shoe.

    Actress Jennifer Coolidge served as this year’s Honorary Muse as was able to stay for the Friday parade and ride in the giant red show float. It was great to see the parade for the first time as a spectator and I would recommend this parade to anyone who wants to experience a special Mardi Gras experience.

  • Mystic Krewe of Barkus

    New Orleans is a special place where even the dogs are celebrated and get their own parade through the French Quarter. The Mystic Krewe of Barkus was created in 1992 at a meeting of the Margaret Orr Fan Club held at Good Friends Bar. Thomas Wood brought his dog “Jo Jo McWood,” but people complained about the dog’s neurotic ways while in the meeting. Thomas decided to make Jo Jo McWood the Queen of her own parade and captain-for-life, as a way to get back at them. Thus, the Krewe of Barkus was born.

    Sunday was my first experience with the Krewe of Barkus. I usually choose to spend my first Mardi Gras weekend on the Uptown parade route but I had seen so many adorable puppy photos from past years that I had to check it out. Rain threatened the parade in the morning but the skies cleared for the parade to line up and hit the quarter to a packed crowd that lined the route leaving Armstrong Park all the way to the end on Dauphine. Overcast skies provided the perfect weather for the pups to roll and stay cool.

    It is not every day where you see human and animal spectators line the streets to see dogs in their favorite festive costumes. A highlight for parade attendees was also seeing Her Majesty XVIII, Queen Belle Hebert, a red standard poodle and King Edward VII Bloomenstiel, a longhaired Chihuahua. Krewe Ella de Vil was also out trying to lure dogs with treats into their nets!

  • Krewedelusion Parade

    Also in the Marigny neighborhood, and less X-rated was Krewedelusion. This parade directly followed the raunchy Krewe du Vieux. It’s slogan: “The People Shall Rule – Until a Suitable Replacement Can Be Found.”

    A newer parade, Krewedelusion revolves around satire and was a playful walking event revolving more around music and the arts. It is comprised “innerkrewes” including the Guise of Fawkes, Krewe Dat 504, Krewe of Hellarious Wingnuts, and the Krewe of London, France of Underpants.

    Krewedelusion keeps its annual theme a secret until the actual day of the parade. Throws included everything from cups and stickers to buttons and beads. The parade began on Franklin and Royal Street and ended on 618 Frenchman Street.

    The mission of Krewedelusion is “to save the Universe, beginning at its center, New Orleans.”

  • Krewe du Vieux Parade

    Krewe du Vieux is an R-rated parade that might not be appropriate for young children. It might be an NC-17 parade since it’s barely appropriate for adults. This explicitly sexual and political-themed parade is nothing short of entertaining.

    We watched the Krewe du Vieux in the Marigny neighborhood. The parade consists of 17 “sub-krewes,” each of which presents their own interpretations of the theme. Some of the more colorfully named sub-krewes include the Krewe of C.R.U.D.E., Krewe of Underwear, Seeds of Decline, Krewe of K.A.O.S. and Krewe of L.E.W.D.  And lewd indeed.

    A lot of families with younger children attending the parade had some explaining to do later that evening. Some floats revolved around erections, had massive penis themed floats and much commentary on Donald Trump including a float with him in a compromising position….also involving a penis. Other floats had a quirky take on larger issues such as global warming and at the end of the parade, people rode around to collect all of the beer cans in an effort to recycle as part of the event.

  • Krewe of Boheme

    Krewe of Boheme is a walking parade that was high energy and how could it not be as New Orleans native Tarriona Ball, also known as “Tanks” singer poet extraordinaire of Tank and the Bangas was the queen of the parade.

    With a soaring twenties theme, the spectacular celebrated its second year. It lined up on Franklin Avenue and marched through Marigny and the French Quarter.

    The basis of the parade was to throw out conventional standards and embrace artistic and literary interests. Their goal is to present a visual and auditory feast of mystery, artistry and fun.

    Walking krewes included Krewe of Goddesses, Krewe of R.U.M. (Really Unsophisticated Men), The Merry Antoinettes, Krewe of S.L.U.T.S. (Sexy Ladies Up to Something) and many more. Throws included everything from hand-decorated cups to small pouches of red beans and rice and cookies.

  • Mardi Gras

    Mardi Gras is literally the most special time of the year. I bought a house in New Orleans seven years ago so I am a little late to the party here. I actually just started fully participating in the celebration three years ago and now I would never think of missing the festivities. I don’t have a full costume closet like many of my local friends but I am working on it and now have a wig for every type of occasion.

    Whether it is a walking parade in my Marigny neighborhood or the large parades on the Uptown routes, I just can’t get enough. I turn into a six-year-old child screaming for throws and special beads from each Krewe. I always go out with the intention of taking photos. Some days I do focus on photography but most of the time I get sucked into the parade excitement and don’t usually go home with many images.

    Mardi Gras gets a bad reputation for just being about drunk people on Bourbon Street but it is really so much more. There are so many other activities that are fun for the whole family that doesn’t involve hand grenades from Tropical Isle (although I do love a hand grenade year-round!)

    There is also a huge underground scene where locals take in crazy fun activities like Choke Hole Drag Queen wrestling and alternatives like Krewe of Vaporwave.

    I also feel like I cannot discuss Mardi Gras without discussing King Cake. I love sweets year-round but King Cake in New Orleans holds a special place in my heart. This year I found the King Cake Hub and bought too many king cakes for one person so I had plenty to share with friends and neighbors. My favorite still remains a Manny Randazzo King Cake – sometimes an unpopular opinion. I was even able to test a slice of the famous Dong Phuong king cake. But I still stick with my opinion of Randazzo being a winner.

    No matter where you are from you should put New Orleans Mardi Gras on your travel experience bucket list. There is something for everyone with non-stop activities for weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Tuesday.