At home with Zulu King Jay Banks for Mardi Gras

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Profiling Zulu King Jay Banks and his wife, Artelia, for the New Orleans Advocate at their Uptown home was one of the highlights of the Carnival season — not just because it’s a chance to meet royalty, but because of the dedication to serve that fills their everyday lives:

If we can use this to benefit somebody, it’s worth it,” said the 55-year-old Banks, director of the Dryades YMCA School of Commerce. “It’s not about us. It all comes back to that basic idea of wanting to help people.”

Both Bankses make service and helping others a part of both their professional and personal lives. That includes his work with Zulu and New Orleans politics — totems of which permeate their modest residence. Keepsakes from Zulu balls and the Democratic National Convention share space on the walls, so I thought you might get a kick out of those images almost as much as the story itself.

 

Nathan Fillion and other celebs prepare for Orpheus parade

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“Castle” star Nathan Fillion, the celebrity monarch for the Krewe of Orpheus, joined co-founders Sonny Borey and Harry Connick Jr. and other celebrities for a press conference Monday (Feb. 8) for other krewe members at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center before loading up for the parade.

Fillion, who confessed this was his first trip to New Orleans, was joined at the event by Krista Allen, star of the CW show “Significant Mother”; humorist and New Orleans resident Harry Shearer; and members of the Orpheuscapade headliner Chevy Metal, a 1970s cover band led by Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins. (Mayor Mitch Landrieu also spoke briefly.)

Hawkins, the Foo Fighters’ drummer, bragged about Chevy Metal being “the most overpriced wedding band in the world,” but promised a good show. (Even if he goofed on the name of Shearer’s “Spinal Tap” character, Nigel Tufnel. He challenged Connick Jr. to join him onstage for a jam at the Orpheuscapade, which is held at the Convention Center after the parade.

Music also will be provided by the Party Crashers and No Limits. New Orleans native and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season six winner Bianca Del Rio will serve as co-emcee with Robert Pavlovich. The event took on a somber tone when Borey noted that his mother had passed away earlier in the morning.

Snapshots and snap thoughts from the Endymion parade (photos)

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I’ll have more fleshed-out thoughts on the massive, unnecessarily reworked Endymion parade — with its 50th anniversary theme, “Endymion Through the Years” — when the brain is less foggy, but until then, here’s what I wrote on Facebook, along with some fun photos:

So in a sense I’m a big fat Endymion hypocrite, partly cuz in the before times I never went, but more recently because of my disdain for whatever happened between NOPD and Ed Muniz that resulted in the bone-headed decision to close off the neutral ground at the load-up zone — which made watching Endymion so fun. Putting aside anger, I did the unlikely and staked out a pretty great spot in front of Delgado, with good friend Todd Price. And then suddenly, Mardi Gras happened: Met an incredibly cool and gracious guy next to our spot who offered to share his spot with us, offered Eli a morning water bottle (he’d been there since 7:30 a.m. setting up), and we wound up having some mutual acquaintances and talked about WYES and the great Aislinn Hinyup, who showed up later. And then we welcomed friends to our tarp area, and because we’d staked out so much space, invited a family with a bunch of kids to join us to our right so they could catch throws (and a couple of teen sisters to our left).

And on the way home I recognized a man grilling oysters who I’d interviewed at French Quarter Festival. And then of course awesome gumbo afterward courtesy Todd. Yes, Endymion is bloated and ridiculous and over-grown and not really my cup of tea, but Eli got tons of throws, Faith Dawson Simmons got to enjoy her favorite parade with her mom Adonicia Dawson, and for at least a few hours made new friends over fiber-optic floats and crazy throws and a few Parish Canebrakes. That, for me, is Mardi Gras.

Solange loses her wedding ring and other highlights from Babylon, Chaos and Muses parades (photos)

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Thursday (Feb. 4) presented a formidable night of Mardi Gras parade-going for New Orleanians just trying to get through the week and into the final weekend of Carnival, with not only three parades rolling but the third one, the all-female super-krewe Muses, rolling long and slow on the Uptown route.

That’s a fancy way of saying that, propping up a tired 4-year-old, we had to bail in the early stages of an interesting Muses parade, which included a rather cryptic satire of the Confederate statue controversy among its subjects. Satire also filtered into the Chaos parade (theme: “Chaos Theory”), with the usual pokes at political correctness and leaders global, national and local. (That President Obama float, well, let’s just say it’ll be nice to not see him set in questionable poses on Carnival floats after next year.)

And yes, we learned later in the evening that Muses celebrity monarch and part-time New Orleans resident Solange lost her wedding ring on the route, sparking a public call to action to help the soul singer find it ASAP.

(On an ever more serious note, check out Solange’s critique of racism in the music industry with a series of tweets.)

That said, I’m curious to know what readers thought of those parade floats, especially those referring to the Confederate statues. Spot-on? Off the mark? Let me know in the comments. Until then, enjoy the photos.

Chewbacchus goes big for 2016 Mardi Gras parade (photos)

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As I reported in my preview of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus parade for 2016 in the New Orleans Advocate, the science fiction-inspired krewe had grown by leaps and bounds — to 1,500 members from 1,000 last year. Their parade Saturday (Jan. 30) gave evidence of this, with several more marching in the downtown parade that packed the streets of Faubourg Marigny and Bywater.

We watched the parade squeeze through Dauphine Street (at Marigny), and it was amazing how difficult it became getting in position; the crowds were sometimes three-deep, and often had to be moved back a bit like crowds are when marching bands walk in the larger krewe parades.

It was an even much larger parade than the large crowds that have now come to define the more modest Krewe of ‘tit Rex parade of shoebox floats that precedes Chewbacchus on Saturday. This has become, for me, the second most magical day of Carnival, outside of Mardi Gras itself — even it feels like it’s becoming a little too big.

Chewbacchus clearly thrives on a chaotic but creative energy, thanks in part to co-founder Ryan Ballard, who’s staged offseason events for the krewe that help keep it in the public eye and generate increased interest (and membership). But on Saturday, what also was clear was that there soon will be no sci-fi fantasy stone unturned given the myriad floats and signs and puns and characters all done up and made up. It was also fun to see “NCIS: New Orleans” cast members Rob Kercovich and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell parading with several crew members from the show.

NOTE: Apologies for the tepid quality of the photos, due to, cough cough, “technical issues.”

Krewe of ’tit Rex parade (photos)

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Each year, it seems, the ’tit Rex parade grows in every sense except the number and size of the floats themselves. This year seemed particularly jammed, especially at the staging area Saturday (Jan. 30) down the middle of the St. Roch Avenue neutral ground, with photographers jockeying with onlookers for ground-level position and a peek at the shoebox-size floats.

As I noted in my New Orleans Advocate preview, the krewe, in its eighth year, has become host to some of the city’s most creative people — a grouping of writers, artists, musicians and other performers. With membership capped and float number limited to 20, the krewe hopes to maintain the modest scope and tone of its parade, but it’s going to be a challenge, at least when viewed from the crowd. Also complicating the whole attendance thing is the explosion in size of the krewe that follows in the same neighborhood: the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, whose massive parade now features 1,500 members (up from 1,000 in 2015) and several more marchers. It was a crazy scene in Faubourg Marigny, and some theorize that more people show up early for Chewbacchus and also get a peek at ‘tit Rex.

It will be interesting to see how the two parades will move forward for next year’s Carnival. But as these photos show, from the staging area, there’s still beauty in the little things.

Follow Krewe du Vieux and krewedelusion parades on social media

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Here are some of the cool highlights from the 30th annual Krewe du Vieux parade Saturday (Jan. 23), which I previewed for the New Orleans Advocate. Send any cool photos to dlsnola@gmail.com.

Mystic Krewe of Satyricon’s 14th Bal Masque celebrates “Bal des Beaux Arts”

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The Mystic Krewe of Satyricon’s 14th Bal Masque was even more artistic than usual as it rolled out its “Bal des Beaux Arts” on Friday (Jan. 22) at the Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette.

Tableaux celebrated art through the ages while royalty, special guests and others were recognized. Richard Read kicked off the evening, filling in for President Wedon Brown, who was away for a family event. Varla Jean Merman and Amanda Zirkenbach served as emcees. (This capped off a busy week for Zirkenbach, who also performed at the fourth anniversary of “You Don’t Know the Half of It” on Sunday at Le Petit.)

Last year’s royals, Becky Allen and Marshall Harris, assumed their place near the front of the stage for the proceedings, with NOCCA musical theater student Kiersten-Italia Moore singing the national anthem. New Orleans costume designer Carl Mack presented as the 2016 queen, alongside the king, Darric Cavalier.

Longtime New Orleans entertainer Chris Owens was recognized for her career. Burlesque star Trixie Minx performed a costumed parody of the Confederate moments controversy.

The tableaux:

Pablo Picasso, “Women of Algiers”
Leonardo da Vinci, “Mona Lisa”
Jeff Koons, “Balloon Dog”
“A Portrait of Bobby Jindal”
Jacques-Louis David, “Napoleon Crossing the Alps”
“Elvis on Velvet”
“Learn to Paint with Bob Ross”
Salvador Dali, “The Persistence of Memory”
Andy Warhol, “Marilyn Monroe”
“An Homage to George Dureau”
Georgia O’Keeffe, “Summer Days”
Georgia O’Keeffe, “Canna (Bloom)”

Future gay Mardi Gras balls include the Krewe of Amon-Ra (Jan. 30, “All That Glittesr Isn’t Gold”), Armeinius (Feb. 6, “Beauty and the Beast”) and the Lords of Leather (Feb. 7, “There’s No Cure Like Travel”).

Mystic Krewe of Satyricon’s 14th Bal Masque: “Bal des Beaux Arts” (photos)

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Here is a sneak peak from Friday’s (Jan. 22) Mystic Krewe of Satyricon’s 14th Bal Masque: “Bal des Beaux Arts,” held at the Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette. I’ll have a full review of the evening complete with tableaux descriptions.

Short version: Once again, a fun time was had by all.

UPDATED WITH INFO BELOW:

Tableaux celebrated art through the ages while royalty, special guests and others were recognized. Richard Read kicked off the evening, filling in for President Wedon Brown, who was away for a family event. Varla Jean Merman and Amanda Zirkenbach served as emcees. (This capped off a busy week for Zirkenbach, who also performed at the fourth anniversary of “You Don’t Know the Half of It” on Sunday at Le Petit.)

Last year’s royals, Becky Allen and Marshall Harris, assumed their place near the front of the stage for the proceedings, with NOCCA musical theater student Kiersten-Italia Moore singing the national anthem. New Orleans costume designer Carl Mack presented as the 2016 queen, alongside the king, Darric Cavalier.

Longtime New Orleans entertainer Chris Owens was recognized for her career. Burlesque star Trixie Minx performed a costumed parody of the Confederate moments controversy.

The tableaux:

Pablo Picasso, “Women of Algiers”
Leonardo da Vinci, “Mona Lisa”
Jeff Koons, “Balloon Dog”
“A Portrait of Bobby Jindal”
Jacques-Louis David, “Napoleon Crossing the Alps”
“Elvis on Velvet”
“Learn to Paint with Bob Ross”
Salvador Dali, “The Persistence of Memory”
Andy Warhol, “Marilyn Monroe”
“An Homage to George Dureau”
Georgia O’Keeffe, “Summer Days”
Georgia O’Keeffe, “Canna (Bloom)”

Future gay Mardi Gras balls include the Krewe of Amon-Ra (Jan. 30, “All That Glittesr Isn’t Gold”), Armeinius (Feb. 6, “Beauty and the Beast”) and the Lords of Leather (Feb. 7, “There’s No Cure Like Travel”).

Big Freedia and Carl Mack: Queens for a weekend, with Krewe du Vieux and Satyricon

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UPDATE: Check out photos and more from Satyricon’s bal masque, and follow the Krewe du Vieux parade images here.

Carnival season kicks into high gear this weekend with two events that, in their own respective ways, have come to symbolize the more creative spirits of New Orleans and LGBT culture. Carl Mack, the street performer turned costume designer, will return for a second reign as queen of the Mystic Krewe of Satyricon at its 2016 Bal Masq and its theme, “Le Bal des Beaux Arts,” on Friday (Jan. 22) at its tradition home of the Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette. For three decades, Mack has been the go-to costumer for the gay Carnival krewes’ balls, often creating tableau that are works of art — and theatrical grandeur.

Speaking of three decades: Big Freedia, the bounce artist and reality TV star “(Queen of Bounce”), has been tabbed to reign as royalty for Krewe du Vieux’s 30th annual parade — unsurprisingly titled “XXX” — when it rolls Saturday (Jan. 23) from Faubourg Marigny through the French Quarter and into the CBD for its after-party at the Civic Theatre.

The choice of Big Freedia seemed a natural fit for Krewe du Vieux, as both pretty much told me in my preview for the New Orleans Advocate. As Big Freedia told me:

I’m very excited that I was chosen to be their celebrity grand marshal and I’m ready to hype up the city and the Mardi Gras season, and I’m very happy to be in this alternative parade and sit on their throne. I speak and represent a lot of people in the LGBT community. … It’s important to appreciate people from all walks of life.”

Considering their respective senses of style and ties to the LGBT community, it should come as no surprise that the two would cross paths, as they did when Mack created the costume for Big Freedia’s appearance at the 2014 Voodoo Fest. (That it had such a royal appearance should shock no one, either; check out the photos!) His ball costumes are even more elaborate.

(So elaborate that he was tabbed to make costumes for a Turbotax ad; see below.)

“My main focus when it comes to costumes for the (gay Carnival) balls is production,” Mack said Wednesday, the day before he and his staff loaded up the costumes to bring to the Civic Center. “I don’t let anything go out that’s just a costume for strolling around. We always have some king of comedy to it, whether it’s with dancers, or a circus act, or something.

“There’s always production associated with it.”

He quickly referenced last year’s Bal Masq, with it’s theme, “Satyricon Makes Scents: Bal des Parfums.” At one point, a tableau gave a nod to Clinique’s “Happy,” which set up the opportunity to create brilliantly orange tableau as well as a chance to capitalize on the popularity of Pharrell Williams’ hit tune. (Check out my story from the ball, and the amazing photos from that event. I also covered the 2014 ball.)

This year’s ball presents the opportunity to honor some of the great paintings and painters of all time, but, with Carl Mack at work (yes, he works even though he’s the queen) and Varla Jean Merman as emcee, the possibilities are endless. And so we’ll get “Elvis on Velvet.”

“Varla Jean set up as Elvis on Velvet will be very cheesy,” Mack said. “And behind her she’ll have two backup dancers of Velveeta cheese. So yes, for me, there’s always going to be production value, and comedy — especially for Satyricon. On Saturday, the people want that humor, they want to laugh, and of course, you’re working on a large stage.”

Big Freedia has been working on increasingly larger stages after years of being a cult figure in New Orleans’ bounce rap scene. (Music journalist Alison Fensterstock, my former Gambit Weekly and NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune colleague, has been credited by many including The New York Times for championing Big Freedia’s work. Check out some of that coverage here, here and here.) Her musical career explosion over the past six years included greater exposure in the form of her Fuse network show “Queen of Bounce.”

“It has been an amazing, amazing ride,” said Big Freedia, taking a break from her work on location in New Orleans in writer-director Angela Shelton’s upcoming film, “Heart, Baby.” (Read more here.) “Life has changed in so many ways and I’ve been through so many rollercoasters. Being at the forefront of bounce music and traveling around the world and make people aware of New Orleans music. There’s been so much change in so many ways and all for the better.”

Season 5 of “Queen of Bounce” is coming up, as is a new album, ensuring that the rollercoaster will continue on the upswing. But so will Big Freedia’s continued push for recognition and appreciation of the LGBT community — especially transgender issues, which leaped to the forefront in 2015 in everything from President Barack Obama using the term and in shows like Hulu’s Emmy-winning “Transparent.”

“It’s been amzing to have that platform and then have all those wonderful things happen in 2015, and seeing the transition is an amazing feel, you know,” she said. “People, not just in as much as being more accepting, but people are supporting others and what they do,” she said. “It helps to keep on opening that door wider and wider for the LGBT community. You just see it all over. It’s now like, you see a gay guy on every TV station. You see them incorporated into more videos.”

It will be an incredibly hectic next couple of weeks for Big Freedia, starting Friday (Jan. 22) at Republic New Orleans, and then Krewe du Vieus on Saturday, and then Jan. 28 at Harrah’s Casino Masquerade. On Feb. 5, she will emcee the BLT Ball at Southport Hall and make a brief appearance at the Zulu Ball. She will then perform Feb. 8 (Lundi Gras) at Siberia, and then at Gator Bait on the West Bank. And of course you can check her out on Fat Tuesday at “Mardi Gras Under the Bridge,” and then the Red Velvet that night on the West Bank.

Oh, and if you were wondering about any connection between Carl Mack and Krewe du Vieux, the answer is yes.

“I’m making donkey dongs and everything for Krewe du Vieux,” the other queen said. “You know, because of the Democrats. It’s an election year. What can I say?”