Rain threat doesn’t douse Mardi Gras fun

NEW ORLEANS — At the Zulu Lundi Gras Festival at Woldenberg Park, Kermit Ruffins belted out “It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shiny day.” It wasn’t, and wasn’t going to be — but many poncho-draped people in the smaller-than-normal crowd couldn’t help but optimistically sing along.

Umbrella sales were up, reported a souvenir store employee on Canal Street, and a man passing by with a cart full of plastic ponchos said he’d started the business for the very first time about “20 minutes ago.”

For Mardi Gras, forecasters with the National Weather Service predicted a warm front to move north into the city sometime Tuesday morning, potentially bringing thunderstorms and likely to be followed by sporadic showers throughout the rest of the day. As of Monday evening, Tuesday’s chance of rain was at 80 percent.

King Logan said the Krewe of Rex would be monitoring the weather data very closely as members stage their floats around 9 a.m. Tuesday. Unless the safety of those in or watching the parade are at stake, Logan said they will roll as scheduled at 10 a.m.

On Monday afternoon, the rain let up for several hours as more people arrived in downtown New Orleans, migrating toward the riverfront for the end of the Zulu festival, setting up camp along the parade route, and waiting for King Rex’s arrival at the Spanish Plaza.

At 4:30 p.m. Uptown, the Krewe of Porteus rolled early, followed by Orpheus — their schedules amended on Saturday for earlier start times and shortened routes in anticipation of the bad weather.

At 6 p.m., when King Rex stepped off the boat, there was a cold but light drizzle, doing little to dampen the spirits of revelers as King Rex proclaimed that schools, businesses and city government close, and that “pleasure must rule both day and night.”

Monday morning in Kenner, the meeting of the Argus and Zulu royalty went on as planned, though the toast and proclamations were moved indoors, the band canceled and outdoor festivities cut short.

“Considering the weather, it went very, very well,” Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni said. Yenni said it wasn’t until just before the 11 a.m. news conference that they decided the weather would not permit the band to play, and he said the arts and crafts vendors were told it was all but canceled, but they could stay on if they wanted.

At a booth selling fried chicken and fried shrimp on a stick, vendor Mike Bucalan, whose family also runs a booth in downtown New Orleans, said he enjoyed the Kenner crowd because there were more locals. But Monday, he said it was “only the diehards,” and business was considerably slower than usual.

In terms of weather cancellations, you have to wait until the last minute before pulling the plug, Yenni said — otherwise it’s not fair for the krewes, the parade-goers or the economic impact felt by the community. However, on Sunday afternoon, the Krewes of Zeus and Hera made the decision to cancel their Monday parades in Metairie, a decision Yenni said he did not understand.

During a break from the rain, Yenni said, they went ahead with a “mini-parade,” circling the block about one and a half times on foot and throwing beads to the crowd of a couple hundred people.

Since the event started in 1999, Yenni said, it has grown every year, with several thousand people attending in 2012.

Sarah Wambsgans, a Mid-City resident who spent time living near Rivertown in a trailer after Hurricane Katrina, said she has attended the event every year since 2006. Seeing the royalty in full regalia and the two courts meet was something she was more than happy to brave the weather to see. “It’s just in our blood,” Wambsgans said.

Back on the riverfront in New Orleans, Shirley Wilfred, a mask-maker from Folsom, said the rain fell hard during the morning, but that by midafternoon, “We still did pretty good—it wasn’t a bust.” Wilfred said she was one of the first vendors when the Zulu Fest started about 20 years ago and only recalls heavy rain during one other year.

St. Louis residents Michael and Sarah Connelly and their two children danced with smiles to “Mardi Gras Mambo,” undeterred by the cool weather and prepared for more rain. The Connellys said they have been coming to Mardi Gras every year for the past decade, and their children — ages 14 months and 5 — were in fact “souvenirs” from New Orleans. The oldest was a result of a 2006 Halloween trip, while the youngest was conceived during Carnival in 2011, they said.

“It’s important to us to share this with our kids,” Sarah Connelly said. “People think up north think we are crazy to bring our kids to Mardi Gras, but they don’t understand that it is so much more than Bourbon Street.”

One-year-old Lucy sat under a blanket in her stroller with several strands of beads around her neck, smiling and moving her head back and forth to the music. Michael Connelly said they would try to catch some of the Proteus parade before bedtime, and mom noted that 5-year-old Jack had been practicing catching beads at home.

In the CBD, Picayune resident Tom Andrews said he’d been setting up his Port-a-Potty in a pickup near the same corner at St. Charles Avenue for the past 30 years. “Everyone knows I’m here,” he said. Whether locals or out-of-towners — “They come find me.”

Andrews said he was prepared for anything with a rain suit and tarp — and the refuge of his truck.

“If the parade rolls, I’m there,” Andrews said.

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