In the beginning, or closer to the beginning, there was Bacchus.
When the Krewe of Bacchus was founded in 1968, it launched the era of the “superkrewe,” whose enormous floats, flashy throws and celebrity captains still define the epitome of Carnival parades for many people.
But not for everyone. Nearly five decades after Bacchus first roamed the earth (or at least that part of the earth along St. Charles Avenue), a new generation of downtown parades continues to redefine what Carnival is all about.
Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that ’tit R?x and Chewbacchus are returning Carnival parades to their roots as neighborhood-based celebrations of individual and collaborative creativity?
However you look at it, one thing’s for sure: This year’s ’tit r?x and Chewbacchus parades won’t be short on spectacle.
And visitors to this year’s Chewbacchus parade will witness something not even the superkrewes have attempted (at least not yet): the birth of a full-fledged religion.
Organized around the Cult of the Sacred Drunken Wookiee — and having obtained a non-profit IRS tax status similar to that of “real” churches last fall — Chewbacchus has even begun offering its members a chance to become legal ordained ministers. (The krewe’s website says several Ordained ChewbacchanALIEN Minister-officiated weddings already have been scheduled over the past several months.)
And what exactly does practicing that new religion entail?
“I think our central tenets and beliefs are best represented by the Chewbacchus Prayer,” says Chewbacchus Overlord Brett “Ghetto Fett” Powers. “‘Our Wookiee, who are in Falcon, Chewbacchus be thy name. Thy keg be tapped, thy cup be passed, on Earth as it is in space. …’ ”
You get the idea. The Cult of the Sacred Drunken Wookiee isn’t so much about achieving salvation in the next life as having a good time in this one — preferably with plenty of glitter, beer, fake fur and rocket thrusters.
And its mixture of the silly-sacred and profane perfectly captures the spirit of Chewbacchus, which in just four years has created a true New Orleans tradition at the intersection of science fiction, geek culture and pure homegrown Carnival craziness.
According to Powers, this year’s Chewbacchus parade will eschew the usual Carnival royalty, though comedian Andy Richter will be rolling with the festivities as a special celebrity guest “pope” and will be filming his experience for the “Conan” show. Instead, it will witness the debut of the Golden Wookiee: “an over 11-foot-tall multi-armed space god on wheels.”
And the giant Chewbacchus himself won’t be the only new thing parade viewers can expect in the parade on Saturday, Feb. 7: “The krewe will have close to 70 subkrewes this year with new additions like Krewe of G.O.G.G.L.E.S., The Mandalorian Meunier and the Charitable Sisters of the Wook joining Chewbacchus stalwarts like the Rolling Elliots and Krewe du Who,” Powers said. “And our signature throws will be Chewbacchus pocket shrines and interchangeable bandoliers.”
On the other end of the scale, ’tit r?x will be keeping it real — as in real small.
Once again, the only requirement of the floats in this year’s parade, which also rolls on Feb. 7 with the theme “L’Enfant Terrible,” is that they’re constructed from shoe boxes.
Members of the “microkrewe” recommend catching the floats as they’re lining up on the Saint Roch Avenue neutral ground near North Robertson before the parade starts for optimal viewing.
And note that schwa, or inverted “e” in the krewe’s name, the result of some creative legal wrangling after a certain other venerable Carnival organization demanded the Bywater-based upstart change its name a few years ago or face legal consequences.
The size of the floats and unorthodox typography aren’t the only things that set ’tit r?x apart from the superkrewes — or even from its downtown cohort Chewbacchus.
“Our krewe members don’t costume in the traditional sense,” said ’tit r?x Krewe Treasurer and co-founder Janine Hayes. “We intentionally dress in all black and white formal attire to draw attention to the floats, which are beautiful pieces of artwork and the real focus of our parade.”
Still, there are a few things that no Carnival parade would be complete without, and ’tit r?x is no exception: Its diminutive signature throws are all hand-made and much sought-after.
Because after all, a Carnival parade without throws would indeed be heresy.
John D’Addario can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.