On a Sunday afternoon in January, the Krewe du Vieux home base in Faubourg Marigny was bustling with members, making preparations for this weekend’s parade.
A woman in jeans painted a prismatic backdrop onto her float, while a mustached man wearing a sequined cowboy hat carefully sketched objects onto a large papier-mâché dome.
Joe Thompson, the current captain, used an electric saw to slice through a thick piece of plywood.
Paradegoers will get a glimpse of the imaginative hand, as well as mule-drawn floats and flashy costumes, when the raucous Krewe du Vieux parade rolls at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
The 17 subkrewes, including C.R.U.D.E., Seeds of Decline and SPANK, are accompanied by the lively rhythms of local brass bands. Dr. Jim Aiken, an emergency room physician and founder of a subkrewe, will reign as king.
The parade, which has a new route, is followed by the Krewe du Vieux Doo at the Civic Theatre. The masquerade features Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove with special guest, James “12” Andrews, along with late-night music from Gravy.
The theme of this year’s fête is “Krewe du Vieux Begs for Change.”
“It’s sort of an offshoot of noticing that there are people on virtually every street corner throughout the city, but there is the double meaning of wanting political and social change,” Thompson said. “The subkrewes decide how they want to interpret the theme — or ignore it all together.”
Krewe du Vieux’s newspaper, Le Monde de Merde, advises spectators to “bring a change of underwear, some spare change, and beware of beggary.”
In the satirical Le Monde, the krewe states: “We believe in exposing the world to the true nature of Mardi Gras — and in exposing ourselves to the world.”
Although parade planning escalates in the weeks leading up to the actual event, the first meeting took place in September. At that point, the two captains for each subkrewe voted on the overarching theme for the parade. And, in a democratic fashion, each subkrewe chooses a compatible motif for their float.
“We try to pick a theme that’s easy to visualize and understand,” said former Krewe du Vieux Captain Lee Mullikin. “If you can’t figure out what you’re looking at in three seconds, then it’s too complicated.”
Inspiration for the satirical — and often salacious — displays are derived from the social and political disputes of the past year. Mullikin is a member of the subkrewe Krewe of Comatose, which will represent the “50 States of Gay.”
The group will sashay across town clad in risqué costumes — embellished with rainbow elements — that pay homage to a specific state. Other themes feature spoofs on the go-cup and the popular television series “American Horror Story.”
“The city is just like a living cartoon strip,” Mullikin said. “There is always something crazy and lurid going on.”
Because of its famously suggestive topics and erotic innuendos, Krewe du Vieux is intended as an adult parade. The public doesn’t always cooperate, which can make for awkward moments, Thompson said.
“We always advertise that this is an adult parade because there are adult themes there,” Thompson said. “They tend to be more bathroom adult themes. People bring their kids anyway. And what they need to realize is that if they want to corrupt their kids, that’s their business. By bringing their kids, they affect our creative expression of feeling natural about being adults and having adult themes. When you’re dancing around and you have a whole row of 9-year-old girls, it takes away from things.”
Krewe du Vieux does not toss plastic beads. Instead, paradegoers should look for unique handmade trinkets, along with costumed revelers grooving in the street and sharing the merriment of Carnival in a unique way.
But despite months of thorough planning, the organizers realize that they must relinquish some control on the night of the parade. And hope for the best.
“This is a big organization, and we try to plan for everything, but at a certain point, you just set it free,” Thompson said. “There’s a sense of relief when saying, ‘Let’s just watch the spectacle play out.’”