The threat of thunderstorms on what locals call "Bacchus Sunday" made it look like spectators would have to contend with a full day of soggy parading, but it didn’t stop diehard fans from staking out their spots to enjoy the 50th anniversary edition of the beloved superkrewe.
All Sunday, thinner-than-normal crowds lined St. Charles Avenue from Uptown to Canal Street, as people took advantage of more space and less competition to enjoy a full day of parades that began late in the morning and lasted into the night.
Those who made it through the evening and the occasional dousing from the skies said they were thrilled to see the “Bacchus Celebrates Its Golden Anniversary” procession, complete with “golden concepts” floats and $2 million worth of customized throws, including plush pillows, boxing gloves, miniature gold bars and fidget spinners.
Last week was a time of indecision for several Mardi Gras krewes as captains considered shifting dates, times and even parishes. In the end, Police Superintendent Michael Harrison announced that, despite the threatening weather, all parades in New Orleans would roll on their assigned days.
And by Sunday afternoon, Bacchus announced that the parade would be rolling on time after this year’s king, actor J.K. Simmons, and 1,500 riders boarded the floats inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Krewe members were trying to keep themselves and the floats “dry as long as possible,” spokeswoman Danae Columbus said.
The weather had held up most of the day despite grim predictions. Before 11 a.m., when the day's first parade was scheduled to roll, the National Weather Service had said there would likely be intense, scattered thunderstorms with an overall 70 percent chance of rain during the day.
The forecast caused St. Charles Parish officials to cancel the Krewe of Des Allemands parade, while the Krewe du Monde parade in St. John the Baptist Parish was pushed back from 11 a.m. to noon.
The weather predictions didn’t halt the four New Orleans or three Metairie-based krewes, however.
The Krewe of Okeanos started rolling just 15 minutes after its scheduled 11 a.m. time, as sparse crowds awaited its arrival Uptown on St. Charles Avenue.
Some loyal fans had been camped out since before 9 a.m. Among them was 43-year-old Carri Fernandez, who had parked her family in the same area, near Louisiana Avenue, where they have been attending parades for 30 years on Bacchus Sunday.
“We raised our girls knowing this tradition, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” said 41-year-old Dana Vontour, who married into the family and is now entrenched in the group.
The family said they prepare all year for this weekend and had bags stocked for just about any situation. The supply came in handy a few years ago when they saw an LSU student pass out, and the family went running to her aid with surgical gloves and water.
The women, too, have endured extreme situations to parade-watch. Vontour had a broken foot on Sunday, but she said the inconvenience was minor compared to the year she came just a month after having brain surgery.
So when asked if a rainy forecast could put a damper on their parade, they just laughed.
“You just gotta be from here to understand,” Fernandez said.
Newer fans, too, were having a ball, even after they got stuck in a brief but heavy downpour during the Okeanos procession.
Teri Torres, 35, and Dustin Peterson, 23, were soaked but still on Cloud 9 after getting engaged the night before in Jackson Square, just hours after arriving in New Orleans for their fourth Mardi Gras together.
“It can’t rain on our parade,” Torres gushed as she showed off her newly bedazzling ring finger and a handmade sign pronouncing their engagement to float riders.
Peterson said they had already caught a load of stuffed animals, beads, frisbees and more.
By the time the Krewe of Mid-City rolled past Superior Grill on St. Charles Avenue on Sunday afternoon, a proliferation of tents, tables, chairs and ladders had filled out the route as more onlookers gathered in sunny, 75-degree weather.
The good weather continued for the duration of the Krewe of Thoth parade, as people dressed in Mardi Gras polo shirts, crazy suits, tutus, glittery makeup and even full costumes trickled to the route.
The atmosphere remained relaxed as music blared from restaurants and families cooked burgers and noshed on king cakes and potato chips. In between parades, kids threw footballs and frisbees to each other as adults poured into the streets to dance while they sipped beers and frozen drinks.
“There’s a great energy today,” said 23-year-old Brigid MacArthur, who moved to New Orleans from Philadelphia in the last year to be closer to her best friend since third grade, 23-year-old Julia Greenberg.
The two were slightly damp from getting stuck in the rainstorm earlier, but it didn’t make their jellyfish costumes any less sparkly.
“It’s not too aggressive, it’s not too crazy,” MacArthur added. “It’s just really wonderful.”
By 4 p.m., the skies had darkened again as Box of Wine marchers danced their way down Toledano Street from a bar in Central City. Ann Marie Coviello, the founder of the women-led krewe, remained hopeful that they, too, would avoid a downpour.
“It’s only a mile,” Coviello laughed, wearing a white, feathered corset with lace shorts and a ruffly skirt. “I don’t think it will rain.”
Thirty minutes later, rain was starting to fall, but it didn’t stop diehard fans from marching toward Bacchus, rather than away from it. Among them was 29-year-old Stephanie Porter, who said she has more fun when it rains during parades.
“More people don’t come out, so there’s less to compete with,” Porter said, smiling and wearing a lace bra as a shirt. “You catch more fun stuff this way.”