Sam Feintech was smiling, but he was a little bummed out despite the Mardi Gras merriment around him.
Standing at the split of North Peters and Decatur streets, the 22-year-old Tulane University student was awaiting the Krewe du Vieux parade Saturday night (Jan. 31) with his friend and fellow Tulane senior, Marissa Douglas. But his heart was a few blocks away: Normally, he performs with the school's Green Wave Brass Band that marches with Krewe Delusion, which follows Krewe du Vieux.
Feintech was bogged down with a full load of classes this semester, working on a neuroscience degree, so he contented himself with being a spectator this year. There are worse problems. He loves Krewe du Vieux.
"There's more debauchery, sure, but there's also that great crowd interaction, and I love that," Feintech said just as the parade started to roll by. "And it's local, so it stands out. That's what sets it apart."
Well, that and themed floats so crude they challenge the photographers, writers and editors to keep overviews as "clean" as possible while trying to explain all that debauchery -- and satire. In keeping with its tradition, Krewe du Vieux brought both with brio.
With its theme "Krewe du Vieux Begs for Change," the group pondered a city, state and nation wrestling with transitions everywhere. What it found were confusing education mandates (with teachers of dubious moral character), dysfunctional city services, a bankrupting health care system, and legalized gay marriage ("50 States of Gay") and marijuana ("Toke of the Town") sweeping the nation. King Jim Aiken (of the "Drips and Discharges" subkrewe) led the 17 floats, nearly 20 brass bands and countless marching members down their new route from Faubourg Marigny, through the French Quarter and around the CBD before landing at the Civic Theatre for the afterparty.
Some of the satire that brewed from all this change was pure beauty, as best illustrated by Krewe of Spank's richly colorful "504 Not Found" dig at the city of New Orleans through a website and hilarious "apps." (Some icons: "Aintergy," "Potholes" and "City Calls.") Puns and potshots coated the float, including a digital display that offered countless critiques in a "crawl" delivery. There was a special fondness for digging Gov. Bobby Jindal, though, with messages such as "Error 504: Governor Not Found," "Warning: Don't feed the ANIMAL" and "JINDAL: CTRL-ALT-DELETE for 2016." Ouch.
The "50 States of Gay" nodded the increasing legalization of gay marriage across the country, with a float topped off by a spinning cast of Supreme Court justices. The crowds, which seemed to pack every downtown sidewalk on the route, gobbled up the rainbow-themed throws: blinking rainbow rings, blinking bracelets, rainbow lollipops, rainbow stickers, and so on, and so on. (You could see some of the New Orleans police officers, out en masse for the parade, amused and happy to keep their distance from the silliness.)
The education stuff was pretty standard fare but with particular delight in the recent stories about teachers sleeping with students, hence some unprintable language -- Bart Simpson writing multiple times on a chalkboard about what NOT to do -- but also a nod to Pink Floyd with "Hey, Teacher, Leave Them Kids Alone."
It was the unprintable part of the float sign that can make a more discerning eye want a little something ... more. Imagine the pun the krewe would create with "Common Core" and an allegedly libidinous teacher. Even a 22-year-old like Sam Feintech frowned.
"Sometimes it (the pun) feels too easy," he said, noting the Common Core joke, as well as a riff on "American Horror Story: Freak Show" that used the same wordplay for women. "I don't know. Sometimes it seems like they'll take the first idea they think of, and run with it."
Speaking of "run with it," Krewe du Vieux seemed to run at a brisk pace, zipping through the neighborhoods at an almost breakneck pace until a few marked delays put the brakes on the momentum. The parade may have felt even quicker with Krewe Delusion, which followed behind, breaking back toward Faubourg Marigny after following behind Krewe du Vieux through the French Quarter and out onto Decatur Street before the split.
This year's theme was "Metamorpho-City," with burlesque star Trixie Minx crowned "Empress of the Insane and Captain of New Orleans."
Heading back toward Faubourg Marigny, 30-year-old Travis Thompson and 32-year-old Josh Vine of Krewe Delusion took turns racing their float all over Decatur Street as the remaining crowd howled with approval. The float, sitting atop a shopping cart, was an airplane. They were part of the Film Krewe, the latest addition to Krewe Delusion to help bring together workers in the burgeoning Hollywood South film-production industry for networking and Carnival fun.
For Thompson -- like many in the industry, a recent transplant, another example of all that change -- it was his first everything. The music composer moved to New Orleans in October after graduating from The Art Institutes Minnesota to pursue work in lighting and sound design.
Their shopping-cart plane float title: "Shoot the Pilot."
"I went full blast!" Thompson said, explaining his deep dive into his first Mardi Gras. "If you want to be a part of the culture here, you have to just jump in. It's easy to sit back and not be a part of it.
"All you have to do is ask."
And with that, he scurried behind his airplane-topped shopping cart, freaking out and delighting the remaining paradegoers with yelps and whoops as he veered from side to side.
Nothing confusing about that.