Mardi Gras season parades in Jefferson Parish will need fewer marching bands

The Edgard P. Harney School marching band performs during the Krewe of Pandora parade in Metairie on Feb. 11, 2018. The Jefferson Parish Council decided Wednesday to let krewes parade with fewer bands. (Photo by Peter G. Forest for  NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
The Edgard P. Harney School marching band performs during the Krewe of Pandora parade in Metairie on Feb. 11, 2018. The Jefferson Parish Council decided Wednesday to let krewes parade with fewer bands. (Photo by Peter G. Forest for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) (Peter G. Forest)

For two decades, Jefferson Parish officials have tried to improve the Mardi Gras season by making krewes hire more marching bands for their parades. On Wednesday (Oct. 24), they reversed course.

With no dissenting votes, the Parish Council decided to let krewes parade next year with as few as three bands, depending on the age of the organization and its slot in the parade calendar. That’s down from a minimum of nine bands in 2018, and 10 in 2020.

Now the minimum will be reduced by two bands for Fat Tuesday parades and those on the Family Gras weekend 10 days earlier, and an additional two for krewes that parade immediately before or after another krewe. If the krewe is new, the minimum is further reduced by two bands in its first year, one in its second year.

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Thus the only existing krewes that must field nine bands in 2019 are Centurions and Isis. All others qualify for reductions.

Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken, who sponsored the changes, said they are designed to lure more krewes to the Family Gras weekend and to encourage more parading groups. “We’re trying to maximize that weekend in Jefferson Parish, and we’re trying to incentivize new krewes,” she said.

The amendments to Jefferson’s parade law reflect the shifting strategy of parish officials, especially the council’s 5th District member whose turf includes the Metairie parade route. They are tinkering with Carnival in hopes of enhancing it for spectators and boosting business by filling more restaurant seats and hotel rooms during the pre-Lenten celebration. Since the 1990s, one tactic has been gradually to increase the minimum number of marching bands, an initiative that is scheduled to peak at 10 bands per parade in 2020.

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Some krewe captains have balked at paying more for bands, citing what they say is a difficult chore amid stagnant krewe membership of luring high school musicians to the Metairie parade route. In response, Van Vrancken’s predecessor in the 5th District seat, Cynthia Lee-Sheng, now an at-large council member, started the Rhythm on the Route program in 2014 to pay cash awards to bands judged to be the best in each parade.

That program will continue, Van Vrancken said. But krewes won’t have to hire as many bands.

Isis captain Sherrell Gorman expressed surprise at the reduction. “For a parade to come out with three bands, it’s not going to be a spectacle,” she said. “It should be a showcase. ... With the bands come the families.”

Longtime float builder McKinley “Mac” Cantrell Jr., whose Krewe of Kings parades for the first time next year, endorsed the idea of back-to-back parades. “I’ve already got six bands under contract, and I’ve got bands calling me” to get in, he said.

For Mardi Gras season in Metairie, an old parade leaves and a new one arrives

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said all krewes qualify for a two-band reduction.

Drew Broach covers Jefferson Parish politics and education, plus other odds and ends, for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. Email: dbroach@nola.com. Facebook: Drew Broach TP. Twitter: drewbroach1. Google+: Drew Broach.