A new krewe will be riding the rails come Twelfth Night in 2017, using the newly opened North Rampart streetcar line to provide an homage to the traditional Uptown heralds of Carnival.
The streetcar will be filled with masked riders and a band for the inaugural ride of the Societé du Champs Elysées, disembarking at every stop for a toast and some bead throwing before continuing their route from Elysian Fields Avenue to the Union Passenger Terminal and back.
The krewe was inspired by the completion of the new streetcar line and the investment it has brought to nearby neighborhoods below Canal Street, said David Roe, the founder and captain of the krewe.
“Already the attitude in the neighborhood has changed,” said Roe, who said he can see the streetcar’s last stop from his porch on Elysian Fields.
Roe was inspired to form the krewe on the first day of the new line, when the streetcar he was riding in was joined by a flash mob of accordionists.
After a quarter-century of planning, fundraising and debating, the wait is over.
The musicians were told they had to stop playing partway through the ride, but Roe said the experience made him think of the Phunny Phorty Phellows, the small but well-established krewe that has marked the beginning of Carnival with its yearly streetcar rides along St. Charles Avenue each Jan. 6 since the early 1980s.
That’s when, he said, he “had an epiphany about Epiphany” and decided to form a small group to bring the experience to the downriver neighborhoods.
The Rampart streetcar line, which opened at the beginning of October, has been greeted by skepticism by some who worry it will cater mainly to tourists. But Roe said he’s seen his neighbors using the line frequently, and the new stops and improved lights have encouraged more foot traffic and renovations along North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue, he said.
Roe said the new krewe's membership will be capped at 40 people and most of the spots are filled.
For its first year, Chuck Rogers, who bought Buffa’s Bar and Restaurant on Esplanade Avenue six years ago, will serve as King Kronos. Roe said Rogers was picked because he long saw the potential of the streetcar to revitalize the neighborhood.
Al “Carnival Time” Johnson will serve as Titan and will perform at a party after the ride with the Davis Rogan Band at Buffa’s.
In an effort not to overshadow its forebears, the Societé du Champs Elysées won’t start its route until 7:30 p.m., giving the Phunny Phorty Phellows a half-hour head start. The members will get out at each stop for a champagne toast and to throw beads, something that Regional Transit Authority rules prevent them from doing while in the streetcar.
Given the different route lengths, Roe said he hopes the timing means that both streetcar-riding krewes could find themselves on Canal Street at about the same time, separated by a few blocks.
In fact, Roe said he hopes the idea spreads to other streetcar lines. He said he’s heard some Mid-City residents are considering forming a krewe of their own on the Canal Street route.
“We want to bring the whole town into this thing,” Roe said.