Operating on scales — and budgets — that were previously unheard-of, Bacchus and Endymion inspired Carnival historian Errol Laborde to coin the term “superkrewe” in 1982.
Everyone in the Carnival community seems to agree that Bacchus was the first superkrewe, though it was not identified as such when it debuted in 1969. In fact, by 2014 standards, Bacchus’ inaugural parade was small. But Bacchus revolutionized Carnival with its celebrity king and then-massive double-decker floats. The upstart club also featured Las Vegas-style entertainment at its ball and sold tickets to the postparade party staged inside the Rivergate Convention Hall, where the parade ended. The Bacchus floats were so large that some blamed the new krewe for the eventual ban on parades in the French Quarter.
In 1974, the Krewe of Endymion, admittedly copying the younger Bacchus, abandoned its neighborhood parade format and morphed into its own superkrewe. When Orpheus came along in 1994, it was granted immediate membership in the club. It should be noted that all three parades are created by Blaine Kern Studios and feature celebrity riders.
This, it seems, is where the consensus on the term ends. Officially, New Orleans Magazine recognizes three krewes — Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus — as “super,” whereas Gambit also includes Rex.
A poll of Carnival veterans seeking a consensus definition of “superkrewe” ended up producing more questions than answers.
Nearly everyone agrees that “super” and “significant” don’t mean the same thing. Zulu and Comus are as significant as it gets, but they rarely, if ever, are called “superkrewes.”
It seems clear, then, that “super” isn’t a designation of quality or historical importance. But to say that superhood is only about the numbers — number of riders, number of floats — seems to miss the point as well.
In 1984, the Krewe of Amor in St. Bernard Parish rolled with 800 riders, but the parade never entered the “super” discussion. Ditto with the West Bank Krewe of Aladdin, whose membership exceeded 1,000 in 2002.
“A big parade filled with half-empty double-deckers does not qualify,” one expert opined.
“What about a full float populated by folks without masks?” asked another.
And what about other factors, such as the quantity, quality and variety of throws?
Big-budget krewes have the resources to produce a superior product. Unique throws are expensive, and it takes a well-heeled membership to afford them. The same is true of the ability to attract top bands and marching units. A Carnival club that owns its floats, a luxury not enjoyed by all krewes, has complete control over the originality of the themes it selects.
A clear advantage enjoyed by Endymion, Bacchus and Orpheus is their ability to generate funds by selling tickets to their after-parade parties. This year Endymion sold all 17,500 tickets (at $180 each) to its Extravaganza at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. While much of that money pays the expenses for the event, the rest goes into the ever-expanding parade. Smaller clubs cannot compete with this.
“Super,” “significant” or just plain “fun” krewes are ultimately judged not by nomenclature but by the experience they provide to the crowds that line the parade routes. In the end, the spectators decide which parades provide the best viewing (and catching) experience.