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?”