If Mardi Gras seems to be getting a late start in Baton Rouge this year, there’s a reason. The krewe that usually rolls first downtown sat it out this year.
Four parades will ramble through downtown Baton Rouge this weekend, but the Krewe of Jupiter and Juno is missing from the festivities for the first time in 12 years.
The krewe has struggled to keep members and could not afford to host a parade or a ball this year with a dwindling pot of money, according to the krewe’s co-captain, David Villneuve.
Ordinarily, the krewe would have rolled last Saturday, which would have made it the first parade of the season in Baton Rouge. Instead, the first to roll this year will be the Krewe of Artemis on Friday evening.
Villneuve always has been attracted to the Jupiter and Juno krewe because of its coed nature, which is something of a rarity in the downtown capital city parades. Artemis is made up of women, while the all-male Krewe of Orion will sweep through downtown streets Saturday evening.
But the mixed company of Jupiter and Juno just might be its Achilles heel.
Joanne Harvey, the captain of Artemis, said the krewe’s female membership has remained about 300 since its inception more than a decade ago.
Compare that with the Krewe of Jupiter and Juno. In its heyday, it had about 200 members but this year couldn’t convince more than 45 to slip on costumes and toss beads. A general membership for Jupiter and Juno costs $550, while Artemis memberships run at $450, plus a one-time initiation fee of $100.
Jupiter and Juno has another problem within its ranks, Villneuve said. Among those who already are members, few are willing to shell out the thousands of dollars that afford the glitz and glory of being crowned royalty.
Jupiter and Juno charges $3,500 to be named a duke or lady for carnival, which also is the cost of a float. The top titles of king and queen cost $7,500 each.
Villneuve said a lot of people dropped off the Mardi Gras grid after the recession hit a few years ago.
“The way I call it, a lot of people just don’t have the play money that they had to spend,” Villneuve said. “...When you start losing people, they usually don’t come back.”
The krewe has made attempts to attract new members. It tried a deal a couple years ago where people could pay $300 to only ride in the parade. It worked, and more than 50 new revelers hopped aboard the flashy floats.
But the next year, only a couple were willing to pay the full membership to stay with the krewe. Villneuve said he and the krewe’s other leaders are brainstorming ways to recruit members for next year.
If they are not successful, the Jupiter and Juno parade may have rolled for its last time. In that case, Villneuve said they will refund the current members’ fees and donate the remaining money to a charity or nonprofit.
He said he hopes it does not come to that.
“I tell all my kids and grandkids, once you get on a float, and you throw beads to somebody, you don’t wanna be on the receiving end anymore,” he said. “It gets under your skin and you just enjoy it.”
The krewe originally was formed in 2003 as the Krewe of Jupiter, a coed option for couples who were tired of splitting up come Mardi Gras season.
Villneuve said it did not make sense a few years down the line that they would be named only for a male god, especially when the krewe’s queen always was crowned as Juno. Thus, the krewe changed its name and tried to rebrand itself as Jupiter and Juno.
The krewe is slightly younger than its Artemis and Orion counterparts. The Krewe of Orion was formed in 1998. One of the founders was Harvey’s husband.
She said she was tired of watching the men have all the fun, so she formed her all-female Krewe of Artemis in 2001.
In addition to Artemis and Orion, the Krewe of Mystique de la Capitale will run a parade this Saturday, and the Mystic Krewe of Mutts will host its annual pets parade on Sunday. The Krewe of Southdowns Parade is on Friday, Feb. 13, and the Spanish Town Parade, which also is co-ed, will roll on Valentine’s Day.