Ask Aletha Bryant to describe Southern Decadence and she doesn’t miss a beat. “Every time I say I’ve seen it all, I see something else.”
If anybody would know it’s Bryant, who has tended bar in the French Quarter for 35 of the 44 years that the city’s gay community has put on the show for folks from all over the world. Her current post is at the Bourbon Pub and Parade on the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann streets, the epicenter of the six-day celebration.
It’s not easy being a bartender during the festival, which officially began Wednesday and drags on — pun intended — until Monday. “This is the gay Mardi Gras. For the gay community and the French Quarter, it’s the biggest weekend of the year.”
The weekend is a blast, she said, but it is also a lot of hard work for the city’s service industry workers, who often put in 12-hour days to keep the drinks flowing and the spirits lively.
According to Ambush Magazine, a tabloid that serves the community, the celebration began 44 years ago as a going-away party and has evolved into a long, raucous weekend with thousands of celebrants packing the streets of the Quarter and Faubourg Marigny. There are street parties, drag shows, scantily clad men dancing on bars and two parades to keep visitors and locals entertained in the sultry Louisiana heat.
While many of the festivities take place in the gay bars and businesses and require cover charges, the biggest party is 24 hours a day in the streets, with a constant parade of costumes, colorful characters and plenty of drag queens.
On Friday night, the Southern Decadence Float Parade takes to the streets to give visitors a look at what the city does better than any other. The parade kicks off at 7:30 p.m. with approximately 15 floats at Washington Square Park on Elysian Fields Avenue. From there it heads down Decatur to Canal Street, turns onto Bourbon and continues to Ursulines. The parade is presented by Toby LeFort and the Knights of Decadence.
On Saturday, the 11th annual Bourbon Street Extravaganza brings dance music stars Kristine W, Jeanie Tracy, Inaya Day and Rozalla to the stage on the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann streets. The concert is free and starts at 6 p.m.
On Sunday comes the Southern Decadence Walking Parade, which kicks off at the corner of Esplanade and Barracks and heads down Royal, turns on St. Louis and to North Rampart. From North Rampart, it turns on Toulouse, heads down Burgundy to St. Peter then back to North Rampart, turning on St. Ann and then down Bourbon to Dumaine.
Leading the parade this year are Ambush Magazine publishers Rip and Marsha Naquin-Delain along with community celebrities Frankie Fierce, Steven Mora and Misti Ates. As part of the fun, the grand marshals can make detours along the route. This year’s theme is “Swimmin’ with the Gods and Goddesses” and the official colors for those dressing in costume are lavender, lime green and silver lamé.
For a detailed schedule of events, visit SouthernDecadence.net.