There are a lot of sides to Mardi Gras. Not only do each of the krewes have their own specific personality depending on when, where, and how they’re rolling; but there are also a lot of different ways to experience the krewes along their routes. Listen around campus and you’ll learn any number of ways in which New Orleans’s biggest annual celebration is handled: Some enjoy the chance to party away from the supervision of their parents; others have their parents come in town with accommodations. Some use the Mardi Gras break as a chance to leave New Orleans for home; others stay, but remember very little of the week for other reasons.
Perhaps the most extravagant way to experience the end of the carnival season, though, is through the end-of-parade parties that adorn the end of the route in the days leading up to Fat Tuesday. These events, which include the Endymion Extravaganza and the Bacchanal, are designed as modern versions to the traditional krewe balls that take place both during the Carnival season as well as in other times of the year. These superkrewe parties have taken place at venues around the city in the past—the Superdome, the NO Arena, the Hyatt Regency downtown—though the ongoing renovations at the Dome have concentrated a lot of this year’s festivities at the Morial Convention Center. The premier example of these superkrewe parties, though, is the Orpheuscapade, which capped off the signature Lundi Gras parade.
Founded in 1993, the 2020 Orpheus parade marked the twenty-sixth year in which the krewe rides through the Uptown and Central Business District neighborhoods for Lundi Gras. Founded by the legendary New Orleans musician Harry Connick Jr., the event has hosted a variety of A-list actors and celebrities every year, with past years including Mario Lopez, Will Forte, Sandra Bullock, and many others. This year’s guest royalty was Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, who was named an honorary King of Orpheus and accompanied by Always Sunny stars and Charlie Day and Mary Ellis. Other local musical talents populate the parade floats as well as the Orpheuscapade, including D.J. Jubilee, The Mixed Nuts, Cupid, and Dancing with the Stars finalist Lauren Alaina.
As someone who’s only ever seen the inside of these events from the perspective of having marched through Bacchus in my high school band, seeing the elaborate spectacle of the event as an attendee was an incredible juxtaposition. (That said, my time in high school certainly gave me extra respect when I saw Tulane’s Marching Band walk past). The size and scale of the event inside the convention center are difficult to imagine without witnessing it firsthand—the barricades around the parade route are four or five people deep for several thousand feet. The event includes a massive array of tables and accommodations where the ticketed guests are given free sodas and ice, presumably to mix with the several-hundred-dollar alcohol brought in as part of the food and accommodations as brought in by the partying New Orleans elite. Given its spot at the end of the route, the interior climax of the parade included several of the best throws of the evening, including many large and, by Mardi Gras doubloon standards, weighty doubloons honoring the recent passing of the great New Orleans musical mainstay Art Neville. The parade timing went down to a science, although many of the larger double-floats in the parade were split up into different hitching tractors—a result of the increased safety precautions called on by mayor LaToya Cantrell after this year’s tragic accidents on the routes of Endymion and Nyx.
The event itself is a massive party which, behind its exclusivity, is surprisingly cavalier. It is a sort of dreamlike situation where men in tuxedos are eating Popeye’s and the women’s jewelry has been replaced with plastic Mardi Gras beads. The sort of environment where there’s an exclusive VIP area with an open bar, but if you talk from under the railing to one of the VIPs inside he hits you up with a free drink anyway. Then he fist bumps you. Mikhail Bakhtin would have a field day.
The Orpheuscapade was a large, dynamic event that highlighted the scope of New Orleans’s Mardi Gras tradition within a modern context. It’s hard to think of any better event to lead into the early morning hours of Mardi Gras itself, though the Lundi Gras event might, perhaps, even overshadow Fat Tuesday itself.
The 2020 Orpheuscapade took place from the evening of Monday, February 24 to the morning of Tuesday, February 25. The Crescent would like to thank the Krewe of Orpheus for their accommodations to the event.
Cover Photo: NOLA.com