Mardi Gras Parades

Band leader Cheryl Thurston, musician extraordinaire (photo by Helen Daley)

Helen Daley

One of the most exciting things about Mardi Gras, as celebrated in New Orleans, is the parades. The second is hearing what is referred to as Traditional New Orleans-style Jazz. The first is much easier to find than the second.

Mardi Gras Day, or Fat Tuesday, is Feb. 13 this year. The majority of parades take place during the 12 days before Mardi Gras, but there are a few beginning on the official start date of the Carnival season, Jan. 6. They total 79 in all this year. Many parades feature elaborate floats, the cost of which is paid by the sponsoring krewe. A krewe is a social club that may also hold masked costume balls and support charities.

Each krewe chooses the theme for their float and then contracts with a company to design and build it. The themes range from satire aimed at current local government officials to racy, musical, educational, fairy tales, etc. Krewe members purchase their own beads and other items to throw from the floats.

Blaine Kern, known as Mr. Mardi Gras, started designing and building floats in 1947 and passed away in 2020. Blaine Kern Studios now provides floats for theme parks and parades around the world and is responsible for about 80% of the New Orleans floats. The following year’s Mardi Gras designs start right after the current year’s parades are over. Artists draw preliminary sketches, and the drawings are completed in color. Then carpenters and other craftsmen take over. Many previous designs are modified for reuse. New figurines are now made with Styrofoam rather than the plaster of paris of years gone by. During a visit to Mardi Gras World, we learned things like nobody can leave the floats once the parade has started, so each one contains a porta potty. There are ropes with hooks attached along the inside of the floats, and krewe members hook themselves on to make sure they don’t fall out while throwing beads to the crowds.

Many Carnival attendees wear the Mardi Gras colors of green (faith), gold (power), and purple (justice).

The Arizona Classic Jazz Society will not have a float but will present the music started in New Orleans a century ago. There will also be many opportunities to march with an umbrella on Sunday, Feb. 11, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the San Tan Ballroom, Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort, One San Marcos Place, Chandler. The music will be great Traditional Jazz provided by Cheryl’s Mardi Gras Jazz Band. Bring your own umbrella or use one of the many decorating the jazz party. Beads will be provided. We also have dance floors, which many New Orleans jazz clubs don’t offer. The cost is $20 per person. Food and drink will be available for purchase in the hotel’s bar. For more information, contact Helen Daley at 480-620-3941.