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