New Orleans — Just outside of the Willow Street streetcar barn, a group of masked revelers dressed as Hubig’s pies, pirates, jesters and more are gathered around a green trolley car and a table covered in champagne-filled glasses.
Across the street, “mystery maskers” holding signs with satirical messages, such as “It’s a shame that the Krewe of Freret can’t roll” and “If football games were 58 minutes, Les Miles would be the world’s greatest coach,” are waiting anxiously for the streetcar to take off.
Then, as The Storyville Stompers burst into a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” it becomes clear — Carnival 2013 has arrived.
That was the scene Sunday night as the Phunny Phorty Phellows took to the streetcar for their 30th annual ride to herald New Orleans’ most beloved season.
“We kick off Carnival, and we’ve been doing that since 1983,” said Peggy Scott Laborde, captain and co-founder of the Phunny Phorty Phellows. “We get to kick off the season, and that’s something we certainly take great pride in.”
“Amazingly, the streetcar goes far and wide, and people turn out all along the route to see us,” Phunny Phorty Phellows treasurer Phil Martin said. “It’s become a big thing just to be there and to see everybody, so it really is the start of Carnival.”
While revelers along the streetcar line celebrated the start of Carnival season, the Krewe d Jeanne d’Arc marched through the French Quarter to honor the 601st birthday of the Maid of Orleans in a newer Twelfth Night tradition that began in 2009. More than 60 krewe members, attired in medieval costumes, and several Joans on horseback, began the walking parade Sunday evening at Bienville Park, ending at the golden Joan of Arc statue at St. Philip and Decatur streets.
The two events are the beginning of weeks of parades and revelry culminating on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 12.
“You just know Mardi Gras season is now full-swing and everything that it entails,” Stompers’ member Ray Lambert said of his participation in the Twelfth Night festivities.
“It’s just a whole lot of fun,” Lambert said. “It’s the magic of living down here.”
Phellow Anne Winston said, “I think part of the tradition is the fact that New Orleans is just a historic and such a cultural city that when you look at the big picture, we’re carrying that on.”
Even the youngest of on-lookers noted that Mardi Gras traditions, like those revered by the Phunny Phorty Phellows, have an important place in New Orleans’ past and present.
“It’s part of my culture,” Logan Magee, 13, said. “I’ve grown up in New Orleans so it’s just a part of me now, going to Carnival.”
Another visitor on hand to see the Phunny Phorty Phellows off, “Wild Man” John Ellison, of the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians, also emphasized the importance of tradition during the Carnival season, calling it “all part of the soul of Mardi Gras.”
“You’ve got new krewes,” he said, “but the soul is the original stuff.”