“It’s enough to drive you crazy.”
That’s Krewe du Vieux’s Keith Twitchell, aka “Grand Poobah of Publicity,” talking — but not about the subversive club’s provocative parades that push the boundaries of good taste and sensibility each Carnival season.
No, he’s talking about how crazy it is to try to pull off a parade, its 30th, in this exceedingly expedited Carnival season that has Mardi Gras landing on Feb. 9.
And that, in turn, makes for an early Krewe du Vieux parade, which rolls Saturday, Jan. 23. It’s even earlier, considering a 6 p.m. start time moved up by a half hour to accommodate the krewe’s new parade route.
The parade, complete with 17 subkrewes and 18 brass bands, now snakes up from Faubourg Marigny, through the French Quarter and around the CBD, winding up at its Krewe du Vieux Doo party for the second consecutive year at the Civic Theatre. (This year’s entertainment: George Porter Jr. & the Runnin’ Pardners, with special guest Walter “Wolfman” Washington.)
So even in this special year that has Carnival’s venerable merry pranksters celebrating its 30th year — hence this year’s predictably double-entendre theme, “XXX” — the clock is ticking.
“Our newspaper (‘Le Monde de Merde’) has to get that to the printer before Christmas, and that’s just not fun,” said Twitchell, about a krewe where fun is baked into its subversive DNA. “(Putting on the parade) is probably more logistically difficult than for the big krewes because we do it all ourselves. The big krewes have studios do it. But they started working on it when Carnival was over last year.
“So things are a little crazy down at the den,” he added. “When you’re down there, though, it has what I like to call that hum of twisted creativity. To see the satire, the ideas that people come up with, the little innovations that people do and just that general spirit of, ‘Hey, another one is upon us,’ and people getting jazzed up, maybe some having a beverage or two … it’s just a buzz of good fun.”
So fun, in fact, that over three decades Krewe du Vieux is the one Carnival parade that’s come with a parental-advisory sticker slapped over the breadth of the downtown area for one night.
“KdV,” as it’s known in shorthand, professes to hark to the old days of mule-drawn floats and hand-made throws and lots of pointed satire. But with 17 subkrewes and float titles and throws sometimes unfit for mention in the family newspaper, this is the krewe guaranteed to push the envelope of good taste.
One of the more printable examples came last year from subkrewe Krewe of Spank’s brilliantly conceived “504 Not Found” float, dotted with pot shots at the city of New Orleans with a dysfunctional website and some hilarious touch buttons (“Aintergy,” anyone?). It gets a little bluer with subkrewes such as Drips and Discharges, T.O.K.I.N. and Lewd.
This year’s parade will touch on plenty of topical events, from the presidential campaign and more local news like the Bourbon Street strip club licensing and the outgoing and incoming Louisiana governors
In the wake of Krewe du Vieux rolls the tamer Krewedelusion, another satirical marching group with smaller, handmade floats, setting off at 6:45 p.m. through Marigny and the French Quarter. This will be the seventh year for the krewe, which named Blaine Kern Sr. its King Bragadocious and Captain of New Orleans. The parade ends at Cafe Istanbul, 2372 St. Claude Ave., for the Bedlam Ball, with entertainment by Tank & the Bangs followed by DJ Lazer.
Where do Krewe du Vieux members draw the line between edgy satire and overly crude?
“One of my soapbox issues is that satire can be satire, but obscenity is not satire,” said Twitchell, who belongs in the Underwear subkrewe. “I don’t care how raunchy we get, as long as it’s in the spirit of satire.”
Nothing symbolizes the krewe’s iconoclastic image more than the annual selection of its honorary monarch, a king or queen. Previous royalty has included “Mr. Bill” creator Walter Williams, humorist Chris Rose, editorial cartoonist Walt Handelsman and the stripper GiO. (The parade also will remember two former kings who died in 2015, Paul Prudhomme and Frankie Ford.)
This year’s choice, New Orleans bounce legend Big Freedia, has made a mark not just as a rapper and reality TV star (“Queen of Bounce”) but also as a champion for transgender issues.
Big Freedia loved the idea when Krewe du Vieux made the pitch back in November. “I’m very excited that I was chosen to be their celebrity grand marshal and I’m ready to hype up the city and the Mardi Gras season, and I’m very happy to be in this alternative parade and sit on their throne,” Big Freedia said. “I speak and represent a lot of people in the LGBT community. … It’s important to appreciate people from all walks of life.”
“We do try to have variety in our royalty,” Twitchell said, “and we try to recognize the different aspects of New Orleans, and we like to recognize people who take a stand on issues.”
As the krewe’s popularity has grown, so has its membership; leaders made the painful decision to cap the number at 900, which they hope has prevented the parade from becoming too unwieldy to roll through the French Quarter. It’s a crowded affair as it is, and the leadership suggests paradegoers take advantage of the less-crowded CBD stretch of the parade.
As membership has leveled off, other street-level and offbeat krewes have hit the downtown streets of New Orleans during Carnival, most notably in the Krewe of ’tit Rex and Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus parades that roll before the older krewes take over in the final two weeks of the season. (This year, ’tit Rex and Chewbacchus roll on Jan. 30.)
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Twitchell said, “but really, a lot of these groups have come up with cool and creative ideas in their own way. The more the merrier. I’m in favor of any outlet for people’s creativity, and where better than in our Carnival tradition?”