The Krewe of Freret makes its way along the uptown parade route in New Orleans, Saturday, February 11, 2023. The krewe parades on 25 floats with 1,000 riders. This year’s theme is "Let the Band Play On." (Photo by Brett Duke, | The Times-Picayune)

A committee of krewe captains tasked with advising the mayor on Mardi Gras matters has suggested raising the official cap on the number of float parades to reflect the actual number of parades that rolled in 2023. The group also wants to clamp down on so-called piggyback parades, which ride as subgroups in established parades.

The suggestions from the Mayor's Mardi Gras Advisory Council came during the organization's March 23 meeting.

City ordinance dictates that there be no more than 30 float parades within the official Mardi Gras season, which spans a 12-day period through Fat Tuesday. But according to the city’s official list of parades, in 2023 there were 34.

Attrition was meant to whittle down the number of parades over time. But the plan doesn’t seem to be working. In 2023, the city lost a parade, then immediately added a new one. 

The Adonis parade, which rolled on New Orleans’ West Bank, folded before the 2023 season. The Legion of Mars, a krewe devoted to veterans and first responders, was permitted to roll for the first time. 

During its meeting, the Mayor's Mardi Gras Advisory Council voted to raise the number of permitted parades to better align the rule with reality.

Or, as council co-chairman James Reiss III said via text, the new, higher parade cap was "just designed to clean up the existing ordinance, so that the Council isn't violating the ordinance by issuing more than 30 permits."  

The Mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Council cannot change city ordinances without City Council buy-in. But it won’t be surprising if some of their advice is eventually adopted.

Knights of Sparta parade Mardi Gras season 2022

The Knights of Sparta parade rolls on the Uptown New Orleans route on Feb. 19, 2022, to the theme "The Art of Making Art." For the first time, the krewe included female members from the Order of Phoenix organization.

Parades within parades

Meanwhile, new krewes are waiting in the wings for opportunities to parade, but police protection and city services are already stretched thin. Something's got to give.

The fact that parades are grandfathered onto the permit list year after year hasn't left much room for newcomers, which has led to the phenomenon of so-called piggyback parades. At the meeting, the advisory council voted to advise City Hall to put the kibosh on the custom.

The recent flurry of piggyback parades can be traced to 2020, when the Mystic Krewe of Nyx melted down in the midst of well-publicized disagreements between the membership and parade management. Nyx had arguably been New Orleans' biggest parade. But the controversy led to a mass resignation of members, reducing the juggernaut from more than 3,400 riders in 2020 to a mere 250 riders in 2023, according to Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide.

Many of those ex-Nyx members united into spinoff krewes. Since they couldn’t form parades of their own, they joined other existing krewes while maintaining traces of their own identities, riding as parades within parades. The Mystical Order of the Phoenix popped up within the Spartan Society parade, the Krewe of Themis rode with the Freret parade, and the Krewe of Harmonia joined the Pygmalion parade.

Keeping up with the Joneses 

These weren’t the first or the only parades within parades. In fact, the Legion of Mars, which was granted its own parade in 2023, had long hitched a ride with other parades.

If the advisory council has its way, piggyback krewes won’t be allowed to have their own monarchs or captains, won't dispense their own signature throws, and won't wear costumes that are distinct from the host krewe.

As the meeting minutes explain: “For example, if a group leaves the Smith Parade and joins the Jones parade, they must ride with Jones costumes and throw Jones throws, and they may not have their own Smith King and Queen.”

Cool throws Phoenix chargers.JPG

Hand-decorated plate chargers are among the throws to be tossed by the Mystical Order of the Phoenix when they parade with the Knights of Sparta Uptown Feb. 19.

Everybody should have a fair shake

Chantell Reed, the co-founder of the Krewe of Harmonia, which rolls within the Pygmalion parade, said that she “respects that they (the advisory council members) want to maintain the integrity of the krewes.”

But, she says, the grandfathering of parades makes it impossible for startups to find a slot. “If some of these parades aren’t what they should be,” she asked, “why should they get a permit? Everybody should have a fair shake at a parade permit.”

Reed said Harmonia already follows the rules proposed on "piggyback parades." In 2023, she said, riders wore costumes issued by Pygmalion, did not identify their royalty during the parade, and threw no throws marked with the Harmonia name.

According to the advisory council meeting minutes, the proposed rules to eliminate parades within parades are meant to make sure that the pop-up piggyback krewes “are not jumping the waiting list” to grab a spot in the parade schedule.

Getting in line

Before a krewe can cut in line, there has to be a line to cut into. At the meeting, the advisory council voted to suggest that an official krewes-in-waiting list be prepared and maintained by the organization, “on a first come-first serve basis.”

The need to limit the number of parades is predicated on the limits of the NOPD and other city agencies to service the routes. Underlined in the meeting minutes is the statement that “both the city and the MMGAC need to do everything in our power to shorten the amount of time that parades and our city personnel are on the street.” 

The changes proposed by MMGAC may not come to pass, but change is certainly in the air. As first reported in The Gambit weekly newspaper, City Council President JP Morrell has touted significant changes to Carnival regulations. For instance, Morrell would like to see some “curation” to weed out underperforming parades that perennially appear on the list of permitted krewes, making room for more energetic startups.

Advisory council co-chairman Reiss referred to Morrell’s call for changes to the city’s Carnival rules before discussing the above proposals during the March 23 meeting.

According to the advisory council's meeting notes, Reiss said he had discussed possible revisions to the Carnival code with City Council members. He called for the stiffening of current rules as well as innovation, suggesting the city "focus on enforcement of existing ordinances before making major changes.”

Via text, Reiss pointed out that the advisory council's recommendations are a work in progress.

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