Lundi Gras used to be a day of rest for people in New Orleans who had spent the weekend partying and wanted to recharge for the final series of parades on Mardi Gras. However, that concept of Lundi Gras was a distant memory Monday, when a multitude of distractions meant revelers could while away the final hours before Fat Tuesday doing almost anything that wasn’t resting.
During the day, thousands of people ignored overcast skies and flocked to the music, food and drinks available at the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club’s 22nd annual Lundi Gras festival at Woldenberg Park along the Mississippi River.
A smaller but equally celebratory crowd had lunch at Antoine’s, the famous French Quarter restaurant where the members of the Krewe of Proteus gather before they climb onto their floats and parade through the city each Lundi Gras evening.
Yet as the morning and afternoon dissolved into the evening in downtown New Orleans, folks turned their attention to the main event: heading toward the parade route to catch Proteus and Orpheus on Monday night, and possibly staying there until the conclusion of Tuesday’s parades, including Zulu and Rex.
Leading one of Zulu’s “character” floats as 2015’s Mr. Big Stuff, Roy Fox told the crowd surrounding one of the Lundi Gras fest’s stages that his nephew was sleeping off Saturday’s and Sunday’s festivities on Monday “because he couldn’t hang.”
“We’ve been partying since November,” Fox said. “But me? I’ll sleep on Wednesday.”
Fox’s remarks certainly fit the tone at the Woldenberg Park festival, where bounce musician DJ Jubilee had audience members on their feet before 11 a.m. Many broke away from the music only long enough to order cocktails at a nearby bar.
Despite the early hour, at least one man was in enough of the Carnival spirit to ask for whiskey straight up.
In another part of the park, things were more subdued. Barbara Chauvin, 62, lay on her back to watch birds fly across the sky while the Pin Stripe Jazz Band performed “What a Wonderful World” and other standards on a stage nearby.
“This is so serene,” said Chauvin, 62, a resident of Lake Vista.
Chauvin had skipped last year’s Lundi Gras festival because the weather was bitterly cold. Monday’s forecast wasn’t perfect, but she went to Woldenberg Park as soon as it opened, determined to get in as much of a good time as possible before the predicted rain fell and the temperature dropped after sundown.
“I’ll take this over the cold any time,” she said.
Chauvin and many around her were waiting for the toast King Zulu (Andrew “Pete” Sanchez Jr.) and Rex (Christian “Christy” Brown) were set to share just up the river at Spanish Plaza in the evening.
King Zulu, whose parade rolls before Rex on Fat Tuesday, was due to arrive for the toast by Coast Guard cutter, as has been customary. But Rex planned to arrive by train — via the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad — for the first time since the 19th century. Until now, Rex, like Zulu, would get to Spanish Plaza aboard a Coast Guard cutter in recent years.
“Rex is an organization that values tradition,” Brown said Monday. “In arriving in my capital city by rail, we return to a tradition left behind in the 1880s. I (have looked) forward to greeting the citizens of New Orleans and visitors from far and near who have come to celebrate Carnival.”
Lester Pollard, the longtime chairman of the Zulu festival committee, said he was curious to see the change in transportation. “It’s breaking (recent) tradition a little bit,” he said.
Proteus’ krewe members would not be on hand for the riverfront toasts by Rex and Zulu. After wrapping up their annual lunch at Antoine’s about 1 p.m., Proteus’ members — in dark suits, red ties and blue or white dress shirts — spilled out into the 700 block of St. Louis Street and began readying for their ride.
Due to Monday night’s threat of rain, Proteus’ start time was pushed up from 5:15 p.m. to 4 p.m. and the route was slightly shortened.
It proved to be a good call. About 6:20 p.m., rain started falling heavily and the temperature dropped, causing the crowd along the parade route to thin out considerably.
The biggest difference with the earlier start time was that Proteus’ flambeaux carriers would not march in the parade, giving it a bit of a different feel, captain Noel Johnson said.
“Unfortunately, it’s more of a day parade now than a night parade,” Johnson said.
Johnson couldn’t deny the disappointment that a poor weather forecast had altered his krewe’s plans for the second time in three years. In 2013, he said, Proteus rolled at 4:30 p.m. in reaction to heavy rain predictions.
“I can’t lie — I’m getting a little tired of going to church three times a day and wishing for great weather” on Lundi Gras, Johnson said. Yet on the bright side, he said, the early start times mean “we’re on the street and we’re riding versus not,” meaning a canceled parade.
And, as was obvious in New Orleans on Monday, no one wants to stay home on Lundi Gras anymore.