Judges treated special at Spanish Town parade

A lone Dorito, thong underwear, cinnamon whiskey, fortune cookies and a dirty napkin.

Those were just some of the bribes offered Saturday morning to the judges of the Krewe of Spanish Town Mardi Gras Parade, in addition to the old staples of beads, Jell-O shots and kisses, as the group meandered around the float staging area downtown before the parade rolled at noon.

The five-person judging team — Phil Cangelosi, Whitney Vann, Tom Waite, Elizabeth Vowell and Ian Perkins — visited most of the floats, followed by their assistants who were responsible for writing down which Mardi Gras krewe gave what bribe as well as to carry the loot in yellow burlaplike sacks.

Spanish Town officials walked with the group, some shouting in a megaphone, “These are your Spanish Town judges. You must bribe them.”

The judges also received several bribes during the aptly named Judge’s Bribery Dinner on Wednesday night.

“Just like the tradition of this extremely scandalous parade, we give the prizes to our friends, who gives us the most bribes, and if you made out with one of the judges” that helps too, said Cangelosi, the head judge in his 12th year judging.

The judges graded each float in a very unscientific manor and handed out awards for the best and worst floats, as well as several awards they made up during their tour.

For the uninitiated, the Spanish Town Parade is billed as the most irreverent parade in the state and this year’s was no exception with the theme “Flamingo Dynasty” meant to poke fun at a family of bearded businessmen from Monroe.

While the Robertsons of “Duck Dynasty” fame may have been the focal point of the satirical floats, political figures including Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Port Allen Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter and Sen. David Vitter also bore the brunt of the revelers’ onslaught. One float made reference to Slaughter’s short stint as mayor, with the title “Deedy’s West Side Gumbo — limited time only.”

All of the floats also carried a picture of Max LaBranche — a former board member of the Society for the Preservation of Lagniappe in Louisiana, the nonprofit group that helps organize the parade — who died from cancer on Jan. 31.

For one judge, Waite, a Florida native who lives in Los Angeles and works in Hollywood, Saturday marked his first Mardi Gras parade. He said Spanish Town Parade officials tried to prepare him for what he would see and hear while walking around as a judge, but he was still taken aback.

“This is an education, definitely,” he said.

The judges began their tour on Spanish Town Road and were immediately met with toy breasts, beads and bribes.

“It’s basically a family parade,” Cangelosi said sarcastically. “Clean, moral, decent family values.”

As per tradition, the group was unable to finish the judging, getting through about half of the floats per Cangelosi’s estimation, before heading to the judge’s scaffold at Sixth and North streets.

“Some of the best parts about (the parade) is the neighborhood and community coming together,” Perkins said as the group passed a large house party on Sixth Street that left the aroma of boiled crawfish lingering in the area.

Friends Kyla Collier, 31, and Chris Puentes, 29, feel the same way.

They have been enjoying the Spanish Town Parade for six years and always try to find a spot on North Street to enjoy the festivities.

“This is our only Mardi Gras,” Collier said. “Just cause it’s local and ’cause it’s a Saturday day parade.”

On the scaffold, Cangelosi, the veteran of the group, told the other judges to keep an eye out for anything spectacular or extraordinary.

The parade reached the judges’ stand at about 12:40 p.m. and was immediately bombarded with wave after wave of beads and plastic cups as well as other items, such as stuffed animals, candy cigarettes and foam-filled footballs.

“I was warned about all the stuff that would be flying at us. ...,” Waite said as he leaned out of the way to avoid a large bag of beads. “And they weren’t kidding.”