If you thought the Coronavirus was going to stop the people of New Orleans from celebrating their beloved Mardi Gras this year? Guess again…
Last November, LaToya Cantrell, the Mayor of New Orleans, declared that due to the Coronavirus, a Mardi Gras parade on the streets of the city wouldn’t take place this year.
Well, that just wouldn’t do for 16-year resident Megan Boudreaux.
“You can’t cancel Mardi Gras,” she said. “Not celebrating Mardi Gras seemed like — not an option.”
Fortunately, the city was open to ideas about how to replace the usual floats, beads, doubloons, King Cakes, music, crowds and general good times that brought in anywhere from US$300 million to a billion dollars in tourism dollars during the annual 12-day festival. Shortly after their announcement, they received more than 300 proposals, which included such ideas as socially distanced mini-parades, scavenger hunts and hot air balloons.
Meanwhile, Boudreaux casually mentioned to some friends that she would like to have all her neighbours decorate their homes “Mardi Gras” style in the Algiers Point district of the city. And the idea took off.
“I opened my big mouth on the internet,” she told a local podcast. Within days, thousands of people in the city declared their interest in her idea — and thousands more beyond the city within a couple of weeks. Boudreaux called it the “Krewe of House Floats”.
“It’s Mardi Gras but for houses, so you don’t get sick!” she said.
Nearly 10,000 people joined her Facebook page, and soon there were subgroups of the main group…and subgroups of subgroups. By December, nearly 1,000 houses had registered to decorate their homes. One neighbourhood, called Irish Channel, declared that their theme would be “Channel Surfing”. Another, Bayou St. John, announced that their theme was “How Sweet it is to be Loved Bayou”.
Before anyone knew it, “Yardi Gras” was a major movement in the city. And while some people had natural artistic flair for decorating their homes, others didn’t and decided to hire some out of work artists who specialized in building parade floats. That generated an organic artist program, where homeowners could spend a certain amount of money to have professionals decorate their home.
At this point, the “Krewe of House Floats” was more organized and decided that they would create a giving campaign to raise US$100,000 for those affected by COVID-19 and event cancellations. Individual neighbourhood “sub-krewes” also raised money and organized food drives for those who were having trouble buying groceries or paying rent.
“The music, costumes, floats and parades transform our beautiful city every year into one of the most iconic locales on earth,” said business owner P. David Soliman of Faubourg Private Wealth. “We teamed up with Krewe of House Floats to support Carnival workers adversely affected — some who even lost their homes due to the pandemic. We hope that we can play a small part in keeping the spirit of New Orleans thriving in these extraordinary times.”
With an overwhelming amount of neighbourhoods decorated — and the movement even extending to such overseas places as Abu Dhabi and Australia — there was only one thing left to do: announce that local bounce music star Big Freedia was to be the official Grand Marshall of Yardi Gras. Nightly, Freedia appeared on the specially decorated porch of one neighbourhood home.
“Remember to wear a mask, stay socially distant, avoid crowds and only gather in your household for a safe and happy Mardi Gras!” Freedia declared in one local promo spot.
And so during the 12-day event in February, people walked or drove by different neighbourhoods to look at the decked-out homes. One home displayed giant cats to the theme of “2021 Meowdyssey”. Another showcased spectacularly huge dinosaurs. Yet another showcased singer Dolly Parton and her COVID vaccine cure.
“Some people are poking fun of current events and wackiness, which is a big part of the Mardi Gras flavour,” said Andrew Farrier, who gives walking tours of the city. “It has really been delighting people everywhere. They’re in Australia, they’re in Europe, they’re in tons of American cities.”
Boudreaux, by now called “Admiral” by her Crewe declared the event a huge success, which seemed to be the consensus of many in the city. Such a success, in fact, that the charitable drives will continue. It’s also been announced that the event will take place again in 2022, even when the traditional Mardi Gras is expected to resume.
“I think we made a success out of hard times, and I hope everyone found something to be happy and hopeful about,” said Boudreaux. “New Orleans, you’re the best!”
For more details, visit www.kreweofhousefloats.org