Sure, during the pandemic there can’t be throngs of partygoers, parades and brass bands like there usually is. But thanks to the Krewe of House Floats, Carnival fans can follow an online map to walk, bike and drive by hundreds of house “floats” decorated in neighborhood themes and ready for viewing Feb. 1-16. Think of it like driving around to see holiday lights at Christmas time – look but don’t linger.
So far, more than 7,000 neighbors have joined the Facebook Krewe of House Floats. A few themes include Roch and Roll in the St. Roch neighborhood, Uptown Parades in the Touro/Milan neighborhood and Channel Surfing in the Lower Garden District. There are 39 sub-krewes in all including Metairie, the Lower 9th, Northshore and even Expats, who can be New Orleanians wherever they are in the world.
When Dewuan Harry heard the news on Nov. 3 that Mardi Gras was canceled, she had to sit down.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t expect it,” said the Uptown resident. “I understand, but the sense of loss was immediate. I was born and raised here, and Mardi Gras is part of who we are in New Orleans. I march in parades, we costume, get together with friends and family. I knew we had to do something.”
A member of the Leijorettes, who march in Chewbacchus, the Big Easy Roller Girls and the Organ Grinders, Harry knew that Mardi Gras had to morph into something that would satisfy social distancing during the pandemic and allow for festing in place. But how would that work?
Harry, who lives in the Touro/Milan neighborhood, heard from her pal Megan Boudreaux who had the idea to decorate her house like a Mardi Gras float. That germ of an idea blew up on Facebook, splintering into neighborhood sub-krewes that continue to multiply.
“There are already 500 people in my sub-krewe,” she said.
With the theme of Uptown Parades setting the tone, Harry said that neighbors and local creatives are donating, recycling, crafting and sharing resources to minimize costs. For those that can, purchasing from artists hit hard by the pandemic is a win/win and there’s a resource page to guide the way.
She hasn’t committed to which parade she’s choosing for her house, but she will say that she has a ton of Zulu swag that might come in very handy.
“It’s getting serious and shiny very fast.”
As a member of the Societé des Champs Elysée, David Roe blows the roof off of Mardi Gras every year. In past years he’s ridden the St. Charles Avenue streetcar with Phunny Phorty Phellows and strolled silently with the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc. Roe, who lives at Elysian Fields and Marais adores the house float idea and his neighborhood’s theme Roch and Roll.
“We’re going with We are the Champions, because of the Champs in our krewe name,” he said. “We’ve already got the guitar picks with Freddy Mercury’s face on one side and our logo on the other.” Fraggle Roch, Roch and Roll High School and Yacht Roch are also taking over the ‘hood. “Some people are doing things with programable LED light curtains and laser-cut images – it’s getting serious and shiny very fast.”
For Caitrin Gladow, who works full time and has three kids, Mardi Gras is all about community joy and the thrill of being a spectator. While she’s done her share of glitter festooning and beading, the Broadmoor resident loves Mardi Gras for its cultural heft. “To have everything grind to an astonishing halt in a city that values its festivals felt so visceral.” When Boudreaux – who she knows from Twitter – suggested Krewe of House Floats, she was in.
“This is a chance to encourage people to do the right thing from a public health perspective,” she said. “As someone who knows people who have died and suffered from Covid, this is a message I want my kids to receive as well.” She has 275 members in her sub-krewe covering Broadmoor, Fontainebleau and Marlyville and expects maybe half that number to decorate. “We chose Staycation: All I’ve Ever Wanted – a riff off the old Go-Gos’ song. If you want to make your house look like Weeki Wachee Springs, go for it. Some people are crafty and others are not. We’re also trying to support out of work artisans wherever possible.”
Jeanne Vidrine’s Mid-City sub krewe has more than 400 members, said the captain, who also walks with Boudreaux in the Leijorettes. “When she asked if a bunch of us wanted to start something up in our neighborhood, we jumped at it. Sounded like so much fun and it is. The theme of the truck float is the jumping off point – “I just love the shiny fluttery petal paper the floats are decorated with. Really anything goes.”
Twelfth Night is the time to start making it happen, she said.
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“Get that jigsaw going, start your paintbrushes, get those zip ties and glitter out,” she said. “Bring on the King Cake and have fun.”
Connecting with neighbors is at the heart of the Krewe of Mardi Gras Floats – an especially poignant necessity during this endless pandemic season. “I’ve never met so many of my neighbors before,” said Gladow, “and I found out some people I already knew lived near me. I see this as a real opportunity to build community.”