Orpheuscapade: Nathan Fillion, Harry Connick Jr., Harry Shearer, Bianca Del Rio and more (photos)

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The massive Orpheuscapade party inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention center served in typical fashion to offer a high-energy punctuation mark to the Krewe of Orpheus’ parade, with floats speaking to the theme, “The Wizard’s Bestiary,” and lots of celebrities and music for Lundi Gras (Monday, Feb. 8).

“Castle” star Nathan Fillion rolled inside the convention center as celebrity monarch, joined by humorist Harry Shearer (with wife/singer Judith Owen in a huge blue wig) and a ton of marching bands and lovely floats. But it was the presence of krewe co-founder Harry Connick Jr. that set the night on fire; the legendary musician rode in the parade and then hopped off to deliver a rousing set that eclipsed all acts that came before — including the cover band the Party Crashers and Chevy Metal.

Before he performed, Connick Jr. gave thanks to co-founder Sonny Borey, who earlier in the afternoon at a press conference that his mother had passed away that morning. Borey soldiered on, serving as a humble host in the convention center at his captain’s table along with artistic director Derek Franklin.

Snapshots from Mardi Gras on Claiborne

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Back in the day, Claiborne Avenue along the Treme neighborhood was a constant hive of activity, until city leaders OK’d a routing of a stretch of I-1o directly over that area, casting a literal shadow over a unique culture and commerce for the African-American community.

Treme in particular and black New Orleans never fully recovered from that decision, but Mardi Gras day represents a kind of reclaiming of that territory, with music, vendors, artisans, families, Zulu members, and Mardi Gras Indians flooding Claiborne Avenue — both under the bridge and off to the side, spilling all the way down Basin Street. It’s as magical a scene as anything in the French Quarter, with DJs and performers blasting music and gumbo boiling in pots and offered at $6 a bowl.

(One vendor offered a free sampling of cracklin’ just to be nice.) Photographers offered to take photos with street-themed backgrounds awash in airbrush spray paint at $5 a snap.

There is an official “Mardi Gras Under the Bridge” event, but really, it’s just one massive street party.

Here are a few snapshots from that scene.

Snapshots from Zulu parade on Orleans Avenue (photos)

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Watching the Zulu parade on Orleans Avenue has become a ritual, of sorts, setting up near Dooky Chase’s restaurant at the corner of Miro and enjoying an amazing street and neighborhood scene. Even though I’d parked my car two blocks away, I must have seen four neighbors smoking meats on the way up to the parade route.

Treme residents, vendors, tourists and even the occasional celebrity can be spotted along the route, and, before the parade proceeds, the king and queen each receive a toast from the Chase family perched on a grandstand outside the restaurant. When it’s all over, plenty of people head back in the other direction for Claiborne Avenue and an even more impressive street scene that includes “Mardi Gras Under the Bridge.” I’ll have snapshots from that in a separate post.

Check out my feature on Zulu King Jay Banks and his wife, Artelia, in the New Orleans Advocate, as well as a look inside their lovely Uptown home.

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.

“Vaude D’Gras” brings the Big Top to Bywater (review)

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(UPDATE: This post now includes an expanded look at the show, which concludes its run Monday (Feb. 8) night. For show details, click here.)

LadyBEAST’s revamping of the Mardi Gras-timed circus show, “Vaude D’Gras,” took over the old Bywater Happyland Theater house on Sunday (Feb. 7) with a rousing ensemble performance that included acts by burlesque performer GoGo McGregor, opera-singing clown Guglielmo, knife-thrower Madame Daggers, whip-cracking/gun-slinging Clay Mazing, aerialist Sarah Stardust, and LadyBEAST herself.

They all performed to the music of the Vaude D’Gras Band, including Sarah Jacques.

Building on the strength of their previous two “Cirque du Gras” shows, also timed for Carnival, this troupe has an easy chemistry that’s only buttressed by the addition of popular New Orleans burlesque and sideshow performer GoGo McGregor. (She also works with LadyBEAST and Liza Rose on what will be a quarterly Cirque Copine show at One Eyed Jacks, which debuted in January.)

While last year’s theme had a kind of post-apocalyptic vibe, this year’s show was sort of pre-apocalyptic — the notion being that vaudeville was being threatened by increasingly modern forms of entertainment (movies, TV, the Internet), and it’s up to the troupe to up its game to keep the customers coming on in. On this chilly Sunday night, the disheveled Happyland Theater, once a home for vaudeville and then movies in Bywater, seemed an apt setting. Almost the entire interior was a study in patchwork coverage, from the flooring to the side walls to the shutters that lined the back wall of the unused balcony. Artisans pushed trinkets, including vintage hats, and most of the modest-size audience showed up in period attire. With no heat available, it indeed felt like the lights were about to go out on vaudeville, but for the efforts of this rag-tag troupe. (If only the one woman sitting near me, with her vintage coat and floral headdress, could have gotten more into the spirit of the proceedings and not texted on her phone half the time.)

Guglielmo, as he’s done in the past, proves a genial emcee, growling and barking his lines. He and Clay Mazing make for a fun comedic duo, especially in the introduction, with Clay Mazing constantly winking at the audience using period references (“Can I bum a fag”?) to underscore how times, and language, have changed.

They’re in constant survival mode with the “show,” especially troubled by the diva/star GoGoMcGregor, who is restless with vaudeville and wants to gain her fame on the silver screen. She spends much of the show serving as the cynical counterpoint to LadyBEAST, who as aerialist and escape artist seeks to preserve all that’s good about vaudeville.

Much as it was with Cirque Copine’s “In Wonderland” at One Eyed Jacks, it’s when LadyBEAST and Sarah Stardust take flight that “Vaude D’Gras” does the same; their aerial performances, together and separately, turn the shabby Happyland into a little palace of magic. While it’s perhaps best to leave the details vague, LadyBEAST’s escape trick at the show’s end is also a moment to behold, if for no other reason the degree of difficulty.

Similarly, the troupe’s greatest strength is when everyone’s onstage creating mayhem; while some individual performances are good but not often great, their collective energy, spirt and humor thrives in ensemble delivery. GoGo McGregor especially excels in these moments; though she’s one of the city’s most popular burlesque performers, and delivered a solid fan dance here, she’s an even better comic talent and wise-cracker, getting her bitch on with every single member of the cast. (Watching them break character with her one-liners is a particular thrill.)

Guglielmo is similarly versatile, whether he’s emceeing or singing arias or performing familiar sideshow stunts such as getting a tattoo on his ass and then a nipple pierced. This was a highlight of last year’s show. (Afterward, he combined the two by performing the Neopolitan classic “O sole mio” before morphing into Elvis and transitioning it seamlessly into “It’s Now or Never.”) The capper was a double busting of a cinder block on his stomach along with GoGo McGregor (with LadyBEAST and Clay Mazing doing the honors.)

Clay Mazing possesses a similar charm, even when not every one of his whip-cracking tricks hits the mark. My only real wish was to have seen a little more of the knife-throwing antics of Madame Daggers, who spent most of her time playing violin with the excellent Vaude D’Gras Band (led by Sarah Jacques, who also performs in the Cirque Copine band.)

“Vaude D’Gras” could use a little tightening of the performances, but it remains a glorious celebration of both the circus-arts talent in the city and the chemistry and spirit of an ensemble that plays well together and off one another. Monday night is the last chance to see them before, like Carnival itself, it vanishes for another year.

For show details, click here. For more on New Orleans’ circus-arts scene, click here.

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.