Help us raise $20,000 to celebrate 20 years. For a limited time, your donation is matched!Donate

City on a Bender

A visual dispatch from New Orleans, where Mardi Gras is in full swing.

This is your first of three free stories this month. Become a free or sustaining member to read unlimited articles, webinars and ebooks.

Become A Member

Imagine a party where everyone you interacted with your daily life – the bank teller who cashed your last paycheck, the boss who signed it, your favorite bus driver and every single one of your neighbors — is there. Now imagine that party on a broad avenue packed cheek-to-jowl and littered with stray feathers, tangles of bright beads and enough alcohol to drown an elephant, and there you have Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Photographs by Sarah Kramer.

People of all ages, races and walks of life come together to watch Carnival’s elaborate public parades. The week leading up to Fat Tuesday has the feel of a giant civic experiment as alcohol and absurd outfits break the boundaries that all too often choke public life.

The St. Augustine High School marching band sets the beat for the Krewe of Muses. An all-boys, African-American Catholic school known for educating many members of the city’s black and Creole elite, St. Aug is known for having New Orleans’ best high school marching band. The accolade is no small honor in a city where trumpeters are publicly adulated with the ferocity reserved for touchdown-winning quarterbacks in other places.

Mardi Gras revelers sport the season’s ubiquitous colorful bead necklaces in uptown New Orleans. At one time, the beads were scare commodities thrown from the hands of elaborately costumed paraders to well-connected onlookers. Today’s beads are mass-produced in China to hit the streets by the hundreds of thousands.

A girl cries on St. Charles Avenue, waiting for Krewe of Bacchus to roll past. The revered krewe upped the spectacle of the city’s annual parades in 1968 when it began marching with massive, Disney-like floats and inviting national celebrities to lead the parade as king. This year, Val Kilmer rode with the 1,000-member parading group.

Box of Wine rolls down St. Charles with parader krewe members distributing their eponymous treat. Instead of throwing beads, this upstart walking parade fills wine glasses for onlookers. Unlike most krewes, there is no fee to march with Box of Wine and anyone can join. Many artists participate.

Parade passes the Audubon hotel. The historic hotel never reopened after Katrina.

A child plays a makeshift trumpet to a crowd of admirers.

Like what you’re reading? Get a browser notification whenever we post a new story. You’re signed-up for browser notifications of new stories. No longer want to be notified? Unsubscribe.

Ariella Cohen is Next City’s editor-in-chief.

Follow Ariella .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Tags: new orleans

Next City App Never Miss A StoryDownload our app ×

You've reached your monthly limit of three free stories.

This is not a paywall. Become a free or sustaining member to continue reading.

  • Read unlimited stories each month
  • Our email newsletter
  • Webinars and ebooks in one click
  • Our Solutions of the Year magazine
  • Support solutions journalism and preserve access to all readers who work to liberate cities

Join 1019 other sustainers such as:

  • Anonymous at $40/Year
  • Dennis at $5/Month
  • Nikki at $10/Month

Already a member? Log in here. U.S. donations are tax-deductible minus the value of thank-you gifts. Questions? Learn more about our membership options.

or pay by credit card:

All members are automatically signed-up to our email newsletter. You can unsubscribe with one-click at any time.

  • Donate $20 or $5/Month

    20th Anniversary Solutions of the Year magazine