I’m looking out at a sea of outstretched arms and upturned faces. The noise is just this side of deafening, a long pulsating chorus of “Hey, Hey, Hey!” In response to their pleadings, I’m chucking handfuls of cheap plastic trinkets at the crowd while dressed in an outfit so garish it would make your average clown costume look downright somber.
If this sounds like something straight out of one of those freaky dreams where you wake up sweating and shaking your head, well, you’re close. Except this surreal scene was very real. And very, very fun.
You see, while I’d been to a lot of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans over the years, I always assumed you had to be born into the right family to join one of the dozens of organizations—known as “krewes”—that put them on in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. That was until my friend Arthur Hardy, publisher of the indispensable Mardi Gras Guide, happened to mention there were a number of krewes that actually welcomed outsiders like me to join in the fun.
Long story short, I jumped at the chance to go from parade spectator to participant by signing on with the star-studded Krewe of Orpheus. On the day of the event, we loaded hundreds of pounds of beads aboard our float, donned our goofy-looking costumes and masks, and rolled out of the New Orleans Convention Center for an experience that can best be described as five hours of the most extraordinary nonstop chaos I’ve ever had the pleasure to be in the middle of.
If you’re interested in seeing a Mardi Gras parade from this downright mind-blowing perspective, here are a few of the New Orleans krewes with membership open to the general public: