Jamie Bernstein, the parade captain and organizer of the Krewe of OAK's Midsummer Mardi Gras, has a strategy for savoring one of his favorite moments of the event.
After meeting the parade in Palmer Park, he races back to its starting point at South Carrollton Avenue and Oak Street, where he watches the costumed participants safely reach the end of the route.
“I feel a sense of accomplishment that — even though I had so much fun — all of my planning, going to City Council meetings and securing Palmer Park … All of these things pay off for me when I see everybody smiling and having a great time,” said Bernstein.
The krewe’s 31st parade begins at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the 8300 block of Oak Street. Doug Trager reigns as Robustus XXXI, with queen Stacey Morigeau. This year’s theme is “Dirty One XXXI-Coming In Hot.”
“It's the doldrums of summer and everyone is kind of coming in hot at that point,” said Bernstein.
The Krewe of OAK is joined by other parading organizations, like the Krewe of Chewbacchus, along with dance troupes, such as the Muff-A-Lottas, the Organ Grinders and TAP DAT.
“The Krewe of OAK loves TAP DAT, and TAP DAT loves them back. We've kind of become their unofficial mascot,” said TAP DAT's chief, Nikki Miner, an active member of OAK who helps with fundraising efforts. “We show up to all of their events and perform, and help out where we can.”
Her dancers will wear matching headpieces that incorporate the parade’s theme, along with black and gold costumes created by women in the group. The one-of-a-kind outfits are based on what makes them feel comfortable, Miner said.
“We don't wear matching costumes, because I want all of my ladies to feel confident,” Miner said. “That's what it's about — having a good time and feeling confident.”
Because Miner and the members of TAP DAT wear tap shoes and dance to live brass band music for the entire parade, she prefers the shorter route of Mid-Summer Mardi Gras to the longer routes of Carnival season.
For Miner, the sultry celebration is a welcome alternative to the superkrewes and thick crowds of Carnival on St. Charles Avenue.
“I prefer an old-school, neighborhood Mardi Gras over what Mardi Gras has turned into over the last 10 to 20 years,” said Miner. “I like the smaller, more intimate Mardi Gras stuff. And what's better than Mardi Gras in the middle of summer?”
Bernstein describes the rowdy event as “a second-line where everyone kind of falls in the back and participates.” At Palmer Park, “everyone is dancing around in costumes,” he said. “It has a Renaissance fair feel to it.”
For the first time, La Casita Taqueria will host the official afterparty. DJ Soul Sister will spin tunes from 10 p.m. to midnight, but the restaurant’s festivities kick off about 6 p.m. It will serve a special taco dish from the back of an El Camino, parked outside.
Meanwhile, several blocks of Oak Street will be brimming with merrymakers.
Bernstein estimates that up to 10,000 people participated in last year’s Mid-Summer Mardi Gras. He said he believes many of them work in the service industry and see the parade as a way to blow off steam during the slow summer months.
“I think that's one of the things that's led to the success of our event,” said Bernstein. “It's the time of year when there's not a lot happening in the city and people really need to cut loose.”
Krewe of OAK's Mid-Summer Mardi Gras
When: Saturday, Aug. 19, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: 8300 block of Oak Street, to South Carrollton Avenue, to Palmer Park, and back to Oak Street