Another Mardi Gras has come and gone in the great city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Its population of 400,000 bulges with the flood of visitors pouring in from around the world, expanding to a whopping 1.4 million people all sharing a common goal: to have fun.
If you’ve never visited and have the opportunity to go next year, save the date, Tuesday, February 13, knowing that celebrations abound throughout the previous week. Here are some of my favorite moments and local customs you may not know about.
1. Street Poets
We’ve all thrown a dollar to a particularly good street musician, but have you ever found a street poet?
These resident writers pop up around the city with typewriter at the ready in order to create any kind of requested prose that you could think of.
Though some the artists may work for a fee, many are donation based so you can contribute whatever you want. The writer pictured above, a New Orleans resident named Cameron Lovejoy, told me that a generous paying reveler once gave him $100. Another, he told me, gave him nothing in exchange for a poem about a slice of lime sitting on the sidewalk nearby.
Whatever the cost, a commissioned poem written especially for you on Mardi Gras is far more memorable to take home than the typical souvenir of disposable plastic beads.
2. Secret Ball Dances
Some Mardi Gras balls are more secret than others, but there are dances throughout the city that range from silly to scandalous. Some require a specially extended invitation – others can be attended just by showing up.
Balls include a host of different themes and music; circus themed, costume-required, balls playing only electronic dance music, or just speak-easy style swing and jazz events. One resident whom I was chatting with said that she once attended a ball where – if your costume wasn’t elaborate enough – you could only enter the ballroom in the nude.
To find out what’s going on around town, simply befriend some locals and ask them if they can give you any intel. There is most likely some kind of event that aligns with your preference.
3. Crawfish Cookouts
If you’re a fan of crawfish, oysters, or homemade jambalaya, then there’s plenty of reason for you to make a pilgrimage to N“awlins.
Dotted across almost every neighborhood in the city are barbecues, cookouts, roasts, and boils – but most plentiful are the ginormous pots stewing with gallons of seafood. The largest pot of food we encountered was over four feet tall! Many of the chefs responsible for this uniquely local cuisine are usually happy to spare a few bowls.
4. The Costumes
Everyone knows about the tradition of dressing up in elaborate garb for Mardi Gras, but I can’t truly drive home how astounding it is.
There is basically no way you can overdress. Even in the days leading up to Fat Tuesday, everyone in the streets is dressed to the nines in boas, feathers, headdresses, masks, stockings, and wigs. Then, during the day of the actual festival, party-goers break out the heavy duty get-ups.
It is absolutely worth going to Mardi Gras specifically for the costumes.
5. The Musicians
Some of the most talented jazz and blues musicians in the country are hiding out in New Orleans and they definitely know how to have fun.
Almost every club in the French Quarter is complete with a live band playing for tips. Dancing is always welcome – and always encouraged.
6. The Scenery
Do you love to take travel photos? Or, do you just enjoy taking quality selfies? Either way, the colored landscape of Mardi Gras is a goldmine for any aspiring photographer.
Apart from the general architecture of New Orleans being gorgeously ornate and eye-catching, a lot of the houses and trees are positively drenched in beads.
It definitely creates a surreal – but extraordinarily beautiful – backdrop for the festivities.
7. Parade Floats
Who doesn’t enjoy a good parade?
There’s a dozen different parades happening around the city during Mardi Gras weekend and a lot of the locals will discuss for days which one is the best.
Each float is elaborately decorated and themed–and all the passengers riding aboard are more than happy to toss some beads your way.
Just be sure to watch the skies for anything heavier than the necklaces – you might get whacked in the head by a glow sword if you’re not paying attention.
8. The Arts Market
If you mosey up Frenchmen Street, be sure to stop by the arts market.
The artists are all locally based and their wares are truly otherworldly.
I repeat my earlier point; any of the paintings, sculptures, clothing, or designs that come from the arts market will make for way better souvenirs than some disposable plastic beads that you’re never going to wear again.
9. The Burlesque Shows
This one may be too saucy for the whole family, but if you’ve never been to a burlesque show, they’re absolutely something worth checking off the bucket list.
There are hundreds of burlesque shows throughout the city for any niche interest; the dancer pictured above did a dazzling Quentin Tarantino-themed dance before finishing the show with a Sarah Connor costume from Terminator.
If you’re made uncomfortable by such raciness, skip this one. If not, then take a peak. There’s just as much goofiness involved as there is hedonism.
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Reprint (Photos by McKinley Corbley)