Arthur Hardy: Mardi Gras is late this year, and that means extra fun

IT’S CARNIVAL TIME

The biggest news of the pre-season is the Krewe of Alla’s move to the Uptown route after 81 years of parading on the West Bank.

It’s been 375 days since the last Carnival parade, an unusually long time. But the season should be well worth the wait.

“Late” Fat Tuesdays such as this year’s usually attract more visitors and more enthusiastic crowds, and March weather is almost always better. The last three times Fat Tuesday has fallen on March 4 — 2003, 1930 and 1924 — there was no rain and the average temperature was a mild 58 degrees.

The fact that the parade calendar has shrunk slightly is not necessarily a bad thing. The 12 days leading up to Fat Tuesday still feature 51 major parades in a four-parish area. And while Carnival aficionados always mourn the loss of older krewes such as Thor and Atlas in Metairie (both hope to make a comeback), the latter-day presentations of the 40-something-year-old clubs were often shadows of their former selves. Two new Metairie clubs, Hera and Atlantis, failed to get off the ground and are goners.

The future of the new Krewe of Freret in New Orleans may be more hopeful, if its claim of 200 members is accurate.

The biggest news of the pre-season is the Krewe of Alla’s move to the Uptown route after 81 years of parading on the West Bank. Alla’s membership got a boost from the Legions of Mars, a new group that had hoped to parade on its own in 2015 but will ride with Alla for now.

With Alla’s move, the West Bank parade calendar now offers only three parades — Adonis, Grela and NOMTOC, whereas it included 14 processions in 1994.

For the first time, the first Saturday of the parade season features a total of 10 parades Uptown, on the West Bank, in St. Bernard, Metairie, Covington and Slidell.

Uptown street repairs may not affect parade routes this year, but they could make the parade formation areas a mess, particularly near Jefferson and Magazine, now the starting point of 11 parades — Pygmalion, Carrollton, King Arthur, Alla, Druids, Nyx, Muses, D’Etat, Morpheus, Mid-City and Okeanos. Construction equipment parked on neutral grounds will surely impact parade-viewing areas.

Several captains are concerned that new SPCA inspections of all horses in the formation area will delay the starts of parades in New Orleans this year.

Family Gras in Metairie, the Carnival concert series that takes place on Veterans Memorial Boulevard from February 21-23, features a strong lineup.

Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee Sheng’s Rhythm on the Route Battle of the Bands program looks promising. Parish funds will be used to award winning bands with cash prizes in all Metairie parades that meet the minimum required number of bands.

Parades with the most krewe logo merchandise include Bacchus, D’Etat, Endymion, Hermes, Iris, Muses, Nyx, Orpheus, Thoth, Tucks and Zulu.

Among this season’s top sets of collectibles will be float-specific medallions for Rex and Hermes. Endymion has produced medallions for each of the nine sections of the Pontchartrain Beach float. The top doubloon may be the 2.5-inch Orpheus Fats Domino gold record doubloon.

2014 looks like a good year for celebrities. Carrie Underwood is headlining the Endymion Extravaganza, to which more than 17,500 tickets have been sold. The Krewe of Bacchus features Hugh Laurie as Bacchus XLVI, while Orpheus landed famed director Quentin Tarantino. Local celebrity guests include Rob Ryan in Argus, Louis Prima Jr. in Thoth, Thomas Morstead in Caesar, Will Smith and Deuce McAllister in Nemesis, Susan Spicer in Nyx and author Julia Reed in Muses.

Krewes presenting special anniversary parades this year include Caesar (35th) and Babylon and Hermes, both celebrating their 75th.

Women’s krewe membership numbers are soaring throughout Orleans Parish. The combined membership of Muses, Iris, Nyx, and Cleopatra totals more than 4,000, with waiting lists. The success and size of the four largest organizations—all-male Endymion, Bacchus and Thoth, and the co-ed Krewe of Orpheus — also continue to trend upward in 2014. Together, these clubs boast 7,000 riders.

Perhaps the biggest story of the 2014 parade season will be the enforcement of new and existing laws in Orleans Parish. Some of the rules are no-brainers. Throwing at float riders is a no-no now punishable by a $250 fine. Blocking emergency vehicles at intersections with tents and lighted grills will not be tolerated.

Much more controversial are new rules that ban parking on both sides of Napoleon and St. Charles avenues during parades, as well as two hours before and after. Complaints from residents have already begun.

Private portable toilets have been banned on public property, and the city has banned the roping off of viewing areas and mandated that all ladders must be 6 feet from the curb. Ensuring compliance over a 5-mile parade route will be quite a challenge for the city’s busy police force.