A Vermilionville Event Teaches the Community about Courir de Mardi Gras

A recent event held at Vermilionville taught guests and visitors about the tradition, history, and legacy of Louisiana’s Courir de Mardi Gras, as per this article from The Acadiana Advocate.

The event took place earlier in February as Louisiana communities were easing into the Mardi Gras season ahead of Valentine’s Day. On Sunday, February 12, a traditional Mardi Gras Run was held at Vermilionville, and it was open for the public to enjoy and for families to participate in an interactive and educational experience with admission prices going to Vermilionville. The event was presented by Vermilionville and the Basile Mardi Gras Association, and it featured an interactive Courir de Mardi Gras tradition led by Le Capitaine, who sang “ La Chanson de Mardi Gras,” as the costumed riders made their way through the historic village begging for ingredients to make a gumbo, as is the tradition.

Although a traditional Courir is held before or at dawn, this family-friendly event began at 10 am with a screening of Pat Mire’s “Dance for a Chicken,” a Mardi Grad documentary that reveals the historic secrets of the traditional, rural Mardi Gras run, which is also known as Courir de Mardi Gras. After the screening, musician Kevin Rees demonstrated the proper use of the “La Chanson de Mardi Gras” with the event’s attendees before the Basile Association began riding through the historic village, which ultimately ended with the infamous chicken chase. The event ended with attendees grabbing a delicious lunch at Vermillionville’s on-site restaurant and enjoying live music and dancing from Feu Follet.

Traditionally, Courir riders will consist of people disguised in colorful and festive costumes with a cone-shaped capuchon hat”, a mask made of screen, and a top and pants covered in strips of fringed fabric. These riders would mount horses and go from house to house to ask neighbors and community members for ingredients for a communal gumbo. The gumbo would then be cooked and eaten by everyone in town on Mardi Gras before the start of lent.

This self-contained version of a traditional, albeit  wilder event was designed by the Basile Mardi Gras Association andVermilionville officials to teach a new generation about the humble beginnings of a long-held Mardi Gras tradition. The holiday has become so ubiquitous in Louisiana with businesses, schools, and portions of the city being closed annually for the event, so it stands to believe that the origins of the holiday can sometimes be lost on a new generation. Luckily, the Basile Mardi Gras Association and the historic and educational Vermilionville can help to rectify that lack of knowledge.

The event was a success, thanks to the organizers at the Basile Mardi Gras Association and Vermilionville. Jim “Pecoq” Young, who is a member of the Basile Mardi Gras Association commented by saying, “we love it. We get people from all over Louisiana and even out of state. People come from all over to see the Mardi Gras. We’re thankful to Vermilionville for inviting us over here and letting us help them celebrate.” A full listing of their calendar of events can be found here.

Vermilionvile’s mission is to “increase appreciation for the history, culture, and natural resources of the Native Americans, Acadians, Creoles, and peoples of African descent in the Attakapas region through the end of the 1800s. Through historic interpretation and conservation along the Bayou Vermilion, we strive to educate guests on the interactions of these groups and the connections between past and contemporary folklife, thus empowering guests to apply these lessons from our shared histories.”

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Inaugural King Cake Festival in Downtown Thibodaux Had Large Turnout

Thibodaux’s inaugural Bayou King Cake Festival had a large turnout as thousands went out to crown the best king cake, according to this article from HoumaToday.

The inaugural Bayou King Cake Festival was held in Downtown Thibodaux at the beginning of February, serving as a festive beginning to the Mardi Gras season. The event, which was hosted by the Lafourche Education Foundation,served as a way for locals to sample and rank a diverse array of locally baked King Cakes, enjoy the Krewe of King Cake Children’s Parade, and listen to live music from Nonc Nu & the Wild Matous.

In total, 28 bakeries competed in the King Cake contest portion of the festival, where visitors voted Slidell’s Sugar Love Bakery the best-in-show. For the past eight years, Sugar Love Bakery has had a ship along Englewood Drive in Slidell, but before that owner and baker Sierra Zerangue ran the business out of her mother’s kitchen for the initial six years.

Sugar Love Bakery was a popular shop at the festival, as they were offering visitors small portions of their “King Cake on a Stick,” which according to Zerangue is the company’s invention along with “King Cake Charcuterie.” This nontraditional charcuterie offering came in the form of a king cake with cups of all the available fillings for dunking.

After Sugar Love Bakery received 183 votes, they were awarded first prize; to which Zerangue said, “it’s amazing, it means a lot to a bakery or any small business.” Second place went to Cut Off’s Cajun Pecan House with 182 votes, and Spahr’s Restaurant finished in third place.

Deanna Lafont is the Executive Director of the Lafourche Education Foundation, and she estimated that since they sold over 2,000 tickets to festival goers in advance, ticket sales along with preorders and scholarships had generated about $50,000 in funds for the Foundation, which will be going towards teacher grants, some festival overhead, and future events.

She went on to comment, “when we were setting the event up, we sold about 700 tickets almost two days before, so we were hoping to get 1,000 people. I think it was just the right time, the right place, the right event, and the right weather. I’m still in shock about how successful the event was.”

The festival had a larger turnout than initially expected; this was due to the fact that festival organizers occupied a section of downtown Thibodaux that’s usually used by Big Boy’s Main Street Cook-Off. Since that festival usually attracts about 1,000 people, Lafont admitted that they’ll need to try and “emulate the Fraternal Order of Police Mudbug Boil-Off because it is a larger event.” This will mean that next year’s event will occupy a larger section of downtown Thibodaux, centered along LA. 1 and Bayou Lafourche, which initially seemed unnecessary for an inaugural event.

Reportedly hundreds of festival goers had stood in line at the two entrances, filling up over two blocks waiting for their king cake samples. Due to the higher-than-expected turnout, many booths and shops were out of king cakes early on. For instance, the Culinary Department of the Lafourche Career Magnet Center saw Kalena Dehart and her coworkers down to seven king cakes from the dozen they brought to the festival within the first hour.

The event was kicked off officially at 1:30 pm with a parade of 15 children-toting wagons and five marching bands marching from the old Capital One building on West 2nd Street to St. Phillip Street and back. Next year, Lafont hopes to organize more events for the children festival goers outside of the parade, saying: “we had the children’s parade, but we’re really talking about having a kids’ area. I would love to see a kids’ king cake baking contest.”

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Footage of the 1898 Rex Parade is Believed to be Oldest Existing Footage

Recently, a two-minute film clip of the 1898 Rex parade was discovered and screened in New Orleans, and according to this article from Nola.com, it’s believed to be the oldest existing movie footage shot in New Orleans.

The film clip, which was discovered in a Dutch museum in March, was also screened at the Presbytère overlooking Jackson Square in June 2022 and followed by a lively discussion. After the event, the film was incorporated into the Presbytère museum’s show that celebrates the Rex organization’s 150th birthday, an exhibit that will be able to be viewed through December 11th. Wayne Phillips, the Louisiana State Museum’s curator of Carnival collections, revealed that the film might become part of the Presbytère’s permanent Mardi Gras exhibit. Wayne Phillips said, “it’s just too important to lay aside and not share with our visitors.”

The film footage of the 1898 Rex parade included 6 total floats, including one with a live ox, and the reported theme was “Harvest Queens.” The film itself was a project of American Mutoscope Co., an entity that sent crews across America to make movies about working-class people. For the film, Frank Armitage, one of the best cameramen for American Mutoscope, was sent to New Orleans to document the Rex parade, two Navy ships that were docked at the port, a crew loading a steamboat, a project called “Way Down South,” and archival footage of the New Orleans City Hall, then Gallier Hall. Armitage and his film crew left New Orleans to document the aftermath of the sinking of the USS Maine, which had blown up in the harbor of Havana, Cuba on February 15, 1898, a week before that year’s Mardi Gras.

According to Will French, the Rex organization’s historian and archivist, Frank Armitage was located at Gallier Hall during the filming. He had looked down St. Charles Avenue toward Poydras Street for the footage. The Dutch Museum exported the film into a crisp, digitized, high-definition version, which (according to French) is so rich with detail that it’s like an active hunt for “100 little Easter eggs,” as each new viewing reveals a new aspect of not only the city of New Orleans but Mardi Gras traditions.

Some of these details include that all the attendants and bystanders of the Rex parade are standing still, which is much different from the jubilant, chaotic crowds of present-day Mardi Gras parades. Additionally, there is no visible police presence in the clip as well as no beads, objects, or anything else being thrown from the floats. According to Wayne Phillips, “we think that Rex started throwing in 1920, in the first parade after World War I. We know there were occasional opportunities during parades when trinkets might be tossed from one person to another, but it wasn’t anything that people expected.”

The rumor of the film’s existence had long-plagued Mardi Gras fans and specifically the Rex organization and its historian and archivist Will French. French was the person who formally requested the film’s footage be found by Mackenzie Roberts Beasley, an audiovisual researcher. French is a corporate lawyer who is involved in financing film production, and he revealed that wanted to find the footage so that he could build the krewe’s video holdings. Mackenzie Roberts Beasley was able to track down the film, which was located at the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.

Charles A. Farwell had reigned 124 years ago as Rex, the king of Carnival, and he is present in Armitage’s footage of the 1898 parade. Because of the retrieval and screening of the footage, Farwell’s granddaughter, Lynne Farwell White was able to see one-of-a-kind footage of her grandfather, who had passed away 26 years before she was born, in 1917. After donating a sword that had been a part of Farwell’s Rex costume to the krewe’s archive, White commented on the discovery by saying, “I got a chance for the first time in my life to see my grandfather alive and as a real person. That is very special!”

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New Krewe Parades through Golden Meadow for Mardi Gras

After a harrowing year along the Louisiana Gulf Coast, one community banded together to raise the spirits of Golden Meadow, Louisiana, and they are accomplishing this by forming an impromptu Mardi Gras Krewe, according to HoumaToday.

The Krewe des Couyons, which is made up of residents from Golden Meadow, aimed to make up for both the 30 canceled Mardi Gras parades in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and those canceled thanks to damage sustained by Hurricane Ida.

They set out to “make things right” with a call to arms so to speak. Krewe leader Kyle Williams organized a convoy of roughly a couple dozen homemade parade floats with about 150 operating them and participating in the festivities. To say that The Krewe des Couyons floats are clearly crafted by a community that had gone a year without Mardi Gras would be an understatement.

As per the Golden Meadow Krewe des Couyons Facebook page, which invited the public to join in the festivities this year, the “newly-founded” Mardi Gras club set out early on with self-awareness. They posted that their krewe will be riding in “homemade floats, golf carts, side-by-sides, and just about anything else you can imagine.” That succinct, yet poignant description emits the exact type of positive spirit needed in South Louisiana after the past few years.

After Hurricane Ida, the Category 4 storm that swept across the Gulf Coast but first came ashore at Port Fourchon on August 29, 2021, many traditional Mardi Gras Krewes found that their floats were damaged or destroyed along with countless homes and businesses. Not only did this cause mountains of dismay for the residents and their families, but citizens of Lafourche Parish knew that they wouldn’t be able to relieve some stress with a traditional Mardi Gras celebration some six months following the storm. That’s just when Krewe Organizer Kyle Williams went to work.

Williams said, “with COVID last year and now Ida this year, canceling again is not an option. Our community needs a pick-me-up to get their minds off of Ida damage. We need to take steps toward getting back to normal. We’re making our own floats. We’re riding in the backs of trucks, and we’re just making do with what we got.”

On Fat Tuesday, the day of Mardi Gras, The Krewe des Couyons floats will make their way down La. 1 at noon in float types ranging from golf carts to tractors. They will pass through Golden Meadow on a route that would traditionally be traveled by the Krewes of Neptune and Nereid in a normal year.

This year, however, several parades were canceled across Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes due to sustained damages from Hurricane Ida. Parades that would traditionally run in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes but had to cancel were Athena, Des Petite Lions, Nereids, and Neptune in Golden Meadow; Des T. Cajuns and  Bon Temps in Larose; and Tee Caillou in Chauvin.

A Spokeswoman for La Krewe du Bon Temps in Larose, Corine Berthelot, remarked on both the sadness at having to cancel parade-going this Festival season and the hope for parades to return in 2023. She told HoumaToday, “this year, there’s so much devastation here that there’s no way that anybody’s going to be able to ride. We’re just going to pray and keep our fingers crossed that the following year we can ride.”

What came as a result of the new Golden Meadow Krewe’s immaculate planning and a bruised community banding together will be a parade maybe not quite as grand and large-scale as it has been in previous years, but one that will perhaps be more meaningful and symbolic than those that came before it.

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King Cake Returns in 2022

With the christening of a new year comes a new Mardi Gras season, and while the state of the 2022 Carnival season is facing uncertainty amidst COVID-19 surges, Louisiana’s passion for the king cake is as strong as ever according to this nola.com profile.

Last year when many Mardi Gras parades, balls, and parties had been canceled or significantly limited due to the pandemic, Louisiana citizens proved that the spirit of the season wasn’t going to disappear along with the celebratory events. This was seen in the steady king cake sales seen by bakeries during the 2021 Carnival season; in fact, some bakeries even saw an increase in profits in the year despite many traditional festivities being canceled.

So it stands to reason that as the calendar has transitioned into 2022, the interest in king cakes will not have been subsidized in the least, even as the prospects for the 2022 parade season are masked in uncertainty. With king cakes becoming available during the first week of January on Twelfth Night (January 5th), the start of Mardi Gras season is officially underway, and this year’s Carnival will be nearly two weeks longer than last year’s. The 2022 Mardi Gras season is held between Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras Day, which lands on March 1st, giving the public over seven weeks or 55 days of delicious king cakes to enjoy.

Many Louisiana bakeries are seeing the lengthier season as an opportunity to be more competitive in the name of the Carnival spirit and thus more inventive with their king cakes. This inventiveness is coming in the form of new flavors, textures, and partnerships. In a traditional year, New Orleans bakeries can showcase a competitive spirit due to the limited window of king cake availability despite the ever-growing public demand, but this year is shaping up to showcase a new cooperative spirit as various collaborations have already begun.

One such collaboration is the King Cake Hub which stands as a centralized location that houses several king cakes from various restaurants and bakeries in one spot. At the King Cake Hub, one can survey a variety of flavors, textures, and confections all in a single location, allowing you to truly compare different bakers’ approaches to the opulent dessert. Originally created in 2019 by Will Samuels, who was a notable community leader in New Orleans known for his previous forays into the Crescent City food and music world.

This year, the King Cake Hub has returned to New Orleans through the help of Samuel’s wife, Jennifer, who has brought back the celebrated and innovative king cake epicenter in accordance with her husband’s wishes. Will Samuels passed away from cancer at the age of 52 this past September, but his dream lives on in 2022 in two locations: the Zony Mash Beer Project on Thalia Street and The Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter, which is accessible through the museum and cultural center’s gift shop on Royal Street.

In a similar spirit of Mardi Gras resilience, Steve Himelfarb, the founder of the Marigny Bakery and Restaurantpartnered with his neighbors at the NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) to bring back his legendary king cake to benefit a local high school’s culinary program. Himelfarb’s bakery had closed in 2020, but that didn’t stop him from returning in 2022 at the King Cake Hub and offering king cake preorders online as well.

Speaking of online sales, one of the areas of king cake commerce that saw tremendous growth in 2021 was the shipping of king cakes around the country. Because king cakes travel well and serve as a great way to share the holiday spirit with loved ones, 2022 is projected to similarly be a successful year in terms of king cakes sales and shipping. Now’s the time to conduct your research and support your favorite small bakery with a king cake shipment, allowing you to start the Mardi Gras season in spectacular style.

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Artists Stay Afloat with Mardi Gras House Floats

When New Orleans transitioned from traditional parades to house floats in an effort to celebrate Mardi Gras safely and responsibly, it created opportunities for Crescent City artists to find work in a year where that’s been hard to comeby, according to an article from The Times-Picayune and Nola.com.

One such group of artists thankful for the creative outlet is Stronghold Studios, as they’ve recently finished an extensive stint of building house float props for customers across New Orleans. Stronghold Studios is a perfect example of a quintessentially creative section of New Orleans, and this recent phenomenon of creating house floats has given a community of float builders, sculptors, painters, carpenters, and others craftspeople steady opportunities to work in a less than ideal (or profitable) year.

Stronghold Studios is owned by Coco Darrow and her husband Ian, and while they never intended to end up in the business of decorating house floats, they are more-than-thankful for the opportunity. While the studio typically produces movie props and party decor, their “bread and butter” is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The Studio, located in Mid-City and founded by Coco Darrow’s father-in-law Bill Darrow produces the signage over the food booths at Jazz Fest as well as the musician sculptures that adorn the stages and festival environment.

The team of artists at Stronghold has also been behind some of the most impressive house float examples. Two iconic examples of the studio’s work are the St. Charles Avenue mansion that features a cutout of a vaccine syringe-yielding Dolly Parton as well as the second story cutout of Chef Lea Chase stirring a giant gumbo pot in Mid-City.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent cancelation of Jazz Fest, parties, movies, and all other events that would normally supply the artists with work, Darrow and her husband began to consider closing the studio in December 2020. Then, just after thanksgiving, the studio received a call from the Krewe of House Floats, and they were given an opportunity to sell their leftover props and begin working on outfitting houses as if they were themed floats.

Darrow told The Times-Picayune that the unexpected flow of commission requests “was like getting a last-minute reprieve from the governor. We were really hurting. The Krewe of House floats saved us. We knew all the spring events were canceled. This place holder gave us solid ground to stand on.”

In no time at all, the studio was booked up with countless house float projects with homeowners coming to Stronghold with ideas, and the studio bringing them to life with their materials and expertise. In an unexpected miracle, the Darrows were able to rehire the nine artists who had previously been out of work since the cancellation of Jazz Fest. Many of the artists had been out of work since the start of the pandemic, but the house float phenomenon had brought them back into the game in January.

While building iconic house floats was a surprise this year, the Darrows reported that they wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t stick around and be an important part of the studio’s calendar in the future. Ian Darrow had said, “This was never a season for us, we were usually just waiting around for Jazz Fest.”

Coco Darrow said that Stronghold is already booking float jobs for 2022, and she’s quite confident that this newfound custom of house floats will continue. She even went on to propose that the city declare a sub-holiday called “Skinny Tuesday” wherein citizens can tour house floats on the Tuesday preceding Mardi Gras.

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