Carnival krewes are getting soft.
It’s a good thing. But they’re still going for the bling, and that’s even better.
“Riders are throwing plush things for day parades, and bright and shiny things for night parades,” says Dan Kelly of Beads by the Dozen, a major Carnival beads and merchandise supplier based in Harahan.
Dodging heavy beads and hard plastic medallions at Mardi Gras parades is not the sport it used to be. Plush stuffed items are being tossed into the air, and they land softly. Even the prized beads with logo medallions are no longer delivering a thud or a knot on the noggin. Instead, hard plastic medallions are giving way to those made of foam or lighter-weight, bendable materials.
Carnival krewes have made concessions to create a kinder, gentler and more family-friendly experience along the parade route. And yet the heavy prizes, those that can’t be hurled without the risk of bodily injury to bystanders, are still coveted. Hand-decorated Zulu coconuts and Muses shoes are still handed off the float by the riders.
Soft and flashy is not the only trend emerging in throws this year.
“In general, there is a trend toward more expensive, personalized throws,” says Arthur Hardy, publisher of the annual Mardi Gras Guide. Case in point: When the Rex parade rolls for the 135th time this year on Fat Tuesday, each float will carry its own theme-specific throws, from pillows to cups to beads with medallions. This year the theme is “Royal Gardens — Horti Regis,” featuring both the real and the mythical and including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the New Orleans Botanical Garden.
Collectors of Carnival memorabilia still clamor for commemorative doubloons and beads, but post-parade litter on the ground is telling: Smaller single-strand beads and even doubloons are being left behind.
“Beads come and go. For the people in the street today, the doubloons are not as treasured as before. If there is a strand of beads and it is not a long strand, forget it,” says Clark Brennan, captain of the Krewe of Bacchus. “Paradegoers want longer beads, lighted throws and stuffed animals.”
When Bacchus rolls on Super Bowl Sunday, riders will throw footballs, along with stuffed animals to go with each of the 31 floats, following the “Flights of Fancy” theme. Look for such stuffed toys as pink flying pigs, snake-eating birds, Martians in UFOs, dinosaurs and a 48-inch- long alligator. The super krewe also will throw lighted scepters and doubloons in various colors and sizes, as well as stuffed versions of the god of wine Bacchus and his chalice.
The old-line Krewe of Proteus, established in 1881, boasts a bounty of crowd-pleasing items.
“Ninety percent of our throws this year are new,” says quartermaster Robert Stone of the designs that have been in the making for three years. A hot item this year is the LED flambeau. There are also LED wrap-around bracelets, seahorse logo medallions, as well as plush toys and foam sticks that light up “Star Wars” style.
“We’ve gone from traditional times to the modern millennium,” says Stone.
The Knights of King Arthur contribute to the modernization of Carnival throws by offering selfie sticks to paradegoers, but stay true to their roots with plush king’s crowns.
Muses, an all-female club founded in 2000, is known for its trademark handmade shoes, but the krewe also offers more than 30 logo items, from shoe-charm bracelets and lighted shoe necklaces to bling rings and glitter ducks. This year, its plush collection has expanded with its theme for 2016, which Muses keeps secret till parade time.
“But I can tell you that it’s so sweet it can give you cavities,” says Muses founder Staci Rosenberg. The plush collection this year includes stuffed toy snowballs, cotton candy, lollipops, donuts, cupcakes and candy corn. There are also erasers that resemble macaroons and pedicure pumice stones that look like lollipops.
Krewe d’Etat, in its second decade of satirical parades, offers hologram cups, bobbleheads and a variety of commemorative items marking the 20th anniversary of a krewe ruled by a “dictator” and not a monarch. Look for the flashing femur bone from the first organization to offer blinking beads as a Carnival throw, in 1999.
Born in the University District, Krewe of Tucks has stayed true to its “Animal House” sense of humor with trademark rolls of colored toilet paper and toilet-lid sunglasses. But this year, Tucks adds expanding “flexi-balls,” and in lieu of a set of dice to hang on a car’s rearview mirror, Tucks is offering a set of tennis balls, in (ahem) blue, not yellow.
“Throw me something, Mister!” has turned into much more specific plea since the first Mardi Gras parade here in 1857.
“That’s just how specialized Carnival throws have become,” says Hardy, who has been chronicling Fat Tuesday revelry for the last 40 years. “Only in New Orleans do people spend a couple thousand dollars to give gifts to strangers who don’t know who they are because they are wearing a mask.”