They say there’s a Mardi Gras for everybody.
And neither strong winds nor morning wind chills in the 30s threatened that adage Tuesday, when throngs flocked to New Orleans’ streets to send the 2016 Carnival season out in style.
Hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors created new memories with parents, siblings, children and friends at parades; “masked Indian” and paid tribute to a late, legendary big chief; or wore irreverent costumes that mocked local and national political figures — all to usher in Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.
Shortly after dawn, costumed revelers were out in droves to secure coveted spots to see the Rex and Zulu parades, while in Jefferson Parish, fans of the Krewe of Argus prepared for its Metairie procession.
Sisters Annelise and Chloe Bergeron, of Plaquemine, stood out on the Zulu route by dressing up as trees missing their coconuts, hoping that would coax one of the parade’s riders to reward them with one of Carnival’s most coveted throws.
“We came last year, and we didn’t catch (a Zulu coconut),” said Annelise, 22, who by 8 a.m. had been shivering with her 17-year-old sister for more than an hour to beat the crowds for a good spot. “So this year, we pulled out all the stops.”
A few blocks away, at the corner of Second and Dryades streets, glitter, feathers, chants and singing combined to honor the father of Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr., of the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indian tribe. Big Chief Theodore “Bo” Dollis Sr., who led the tribe for several decades, died shortly before last year’s Mardi Gras.
Members of the younger Dollis’ “gang” sang the traditional “Indian Red” chant to both mourn and laud the new chief’s father, accompanied by a crowd of supporters and onlookers.
After the final verses, the crowd parted to reveal the new chief’s Indian suit, including a headpiece on which was printed a photo of his father, surrounded by long ropes meant to look like braids, all underneath sleeved mannequin arms, outstretched as if to give an offering or a hug.
“His hands are extended out because he’s the type of person who helped anybody,” Dollis Jr. said of the headdress honoring his father, whose voice introduced Mardi Gras Indian music to a worldwide audience. “It didn’t matter what gang you were with or what problem you had — he could help you.”
Later, the traditional ceremony in which New Orleans’ mayor salutes Rex, the king of Carnival, returned to its usual stage: Gallier Hall.
Last year, the mayor toasted Rex across the street at Lafayette Square because a piece of Gallier Hall’s facade had fallen near the building’s entrance. But with $5.4 million in restoration work having been completed, Mayor Mitch Landrieu toasted 2016 Rex Michael Kearney at the hall’s reviewing stands Tuesday, saying, “We’ve given the streets of the city unto you and your krewe for a glorious and splendid day.”
Although a family-friendly atmosphere prevailed in most parts of the city and suburbs, crowds in Faubourg Marigny and the French Quarter were, unsurprisingly, a bit more rowdy and raunchy.
Outfits and signs seen outside the popular R Bar on Royal Street lampooned everyone from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — who, one cap said, wants to “Make America Gringo” again — to the so-called Bundy Militia who occupied a national wildlife refuge in Oregon a few weeks ago, before one member was killed, another was wounded and 14 more were arrested.
But the costumes that resonated the most with revelers in that part of town satirized local political issues, especially Landrieu’s efforts to get four Confederate monuments in New Orleans removed.
Outside the R Bar, members of one much-photographed group were all dressed like the column that supports the Robert E. Lee monument at Lee Circle. On their heads were pictures of statues that could replace that of the Confederate general, such as martial artist Bruce Lee performing a flying kick, a Sara Lee coffeecake box and a bust of the late, tough-talking Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee.
Among those soaking in that atmosphere was Laney Chouest, one of the richest men in Louisiana, whom some might have expected to see in Rex, alongside the rest of New Orleans’ elite. But the doctor and businessman, wearing a dark, abstract costume representing a black hole and listening to a blaring soundtrack that included tunes such as the 2pac and Dr. Dre rap classic “California Love,” said he prefers the “less structured, more unpredictable” vibe found in and around the French Quarter.
“For every personality, there’s a Mardi Gras for you,” said Chouest, who owns NOLA Motorsports Park. “This here is all unscripted, and that’s the appeal.”
The personality needed for the 52nd annual Bourbon Street Awards costume contest outside the Oz gay dance club several blocks away was of the thick-skinned kind.
Vying for $5,000 in cash prizes, some participants spend months creating costumes that often incorporate colorful feathers, shiny sequins, leather and headdresses that tower over their wearers. But if the costume doesn’t score a hit with the bawdy contest’s emcee or the crowd, the participants will hear about it.
“This (stuff) belongs in Metairie,” emcee, insult comic and drag queen Bianca Del Rio told one participant who went in for a racy Alice in Wonderland, as hundreds of spectators roared.
Del Rio told another participant, “And the crowd goes ... tepid. No need to count (votes). She lost.”
Robert Cook, of Slidell, a past Bourbon Street Awards winner, said contestants stomach the disses because regular Mardi Gras revelers largely appreciate the costumes’ artistry, even if those presiding over the competition don’t.
“It’s like being on the red carpet,” Cook said. “Everyone wants to stop you and take a picture. It’s rewarding.”