Endymion is what’s known as a “Super Krewe,” with celebrity guests, mountains of throws and tandem floats as long as a train. Normally, the Saturday parade rolls and finishes its route with a loop around the venue of its Extravaganza. This year, however, the parade was rescheduled for rain. But, that didn’t stop the Ball from going on as planned, parade and all.
Since first hearing of Cinderella’s adventures, I’d always dreamed of going to a Ball. I pictured fancy dresses, horse-drawn carriages and magical waltzes. I’d heard stories about Endymion’s ball, how people arrive in gowns and tuxes, dragging coolers on rollers and standing in line to receive medical attention for head wounds received during the earlier parade (Endymion is known for their plentiful and enthusiastically thrown beads). We arrived and stood in a long entrance line with head wound-free people indeed dragging coolers on rollers. I noticed right away that many of the women, though beautifully dressed, were not wearing their finest gowns instead opting for old pageant and bridesmaid dresses with bejeweled flip flops or sneakers. In a later restroom line, a girl explained that between the marathon-like length of the party (at least 7 hours), catching throws and dancing all night on trashed floors, women select their most expendable gowns. I was glad I hadn’t decided to wear a delicate, vintage dress with a train and wished I’d brought some flats.
We showed our tickets and were handed big, sturdy Endymion-emblazoned bags for throws. There were more first aid centers than restrooms, but they mostly sat idle. The huge Morial Convention Center was divided into a stage area for the several concerts scheduled, including Pat Benatar and Train, the parade route and hundreds and hundreds of tables. Dozens of Jumbotrons hung from the rafters displaying the concert stage where cover band, The Wise Guys, were performing. We found our table topped with 2-liter jugs of sodas, buckets of ice and bags of Zapp’s potato chips (the best chips in the world and coming soon to a store near you as they’ve recently been acquired by Utz). People brought everything from full bars of liquor and cases of beer to sandwich platters and King cakes.
Tickets are available to the general public for a price but are only sold in pairs. You send a check in well before the bands are announced then wait for weeks to see if its cashed. No fairy godmothers involved.
The parade was insane. Pressed against the railing, I was so close to the floats, at times men just handed me things. I usually hang back at parades, catching mostly from the people on the top tier of double-decker floats. From my vantage, I couldn’t even see the top tier. As I struggled to keep my own parade rule of “protect the head,” I realized the nearby girls wearing Saints helmets with their ball-gowns got it right.
The theme this year was American Masters and featured floats of Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Elvis and Michael Jackson. The marshals were CNN’s Anderson Cooper (a local favorite since his Katrina coverage), Kelly Ripa and her husband, Mark Consuelos. The parade opened with the Marines playing an enthusiastic version of When the Saints Go Marching In. There were stilt-walkers, the puffy Endymion mascot men, traditional flambeaux, confetti machines, spotlights,Train playing on a float and royalty in plumed, sparkly garments as spectacular as those wrought by the hands of the Mardi Gras Indians. St. Augustine, McDonogh #35 and Warren Easton were the only schools represented, but man-oh-man, did they put on a show.
Since nearly 800 of the 2500 riders live out of town, there were many riders who would have to leave before the parade rescheduled for Sunday night. That meant there were many riders unloading ALL of their throws. Good thing they’d given us bags to carry home the booty.
After the parade, the route was quickly removed and people headed to the stage area to hear Pat Benatar. I’d been to her D.C. concert in 1981 at the peak of her sales and accolades and can say with authority – at 58 and proud of it, she’s still at her peak as a performer. Her classically trained voice is as pure as ever. As she took the stage and took in the 12,000 blinky-adorned formally dressed revelers, she stared gap-jawed for a moment then said, “This is nuts!” I’m guessing she was expecting stuffy upper-crusters, maybe with fans, gloves and tiaras. What she got instead was a giant, blinking neon, beach-ball lobbing crowd of people from 18-80 celebrating “Dirty South” style.
For those too young to know, she introduced herself as the second video to play on the brand new network, MTV and her guitarist, Neil Giraldo, as the first to play guitar on the channel (as the first video featured synthesizers). She played many of her favorites and closed with Heartbreaker. Actually, she closed before that and did the traditional rocker thing of leaving the stage and waiting for us to cheer her back. Someone should have told her that here, when someone leaves the stage, we assume they’ve gone home. Luckily, our relative lack of sustained noise didn’t make her doubt how much we wanted to hear that last song.
Next was Train. The younger people in the crowd were beyond thrilled, carrying signs reading, “Marry me Train” (the whole band?) and other declarations of love. They put on a good show and brought some of the women onstage with them, taking photos of themselves with cellphones for others. Their hits, Soul Sister and Calling All Angels, brought young and old to their feet and got the crowd singing along. Maybe it’s because lead singer, Patrick Monahan, started in a Zeppelin cover band, but the band seemed to play an extraordinary amount of songs by other artists, especially given how many hits they’ve accumulated since forming in 1994. I counted 4 or 5 songs including Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On and Aerosmith’s Dream On. Though it was all very good and the younger revelers could have cared less, some of the older guests marveled that we were now listening to the “most expensive cover band in the city.” I noticed later in my video that they even sang Journey during their one parade lap around the Convention Center.
There was a very un-Cinderella-like fist fight that broke out nearby, but we met a very nice couple at our table who’d come in from Tennessee. They’d met at Jazz Fest after Katrina. Bless all those who came and supported the city when it was still reeling from the disaster.
The night wore on with cover band, Party on the Moon performing fun favorites from the last few decades. There were no evil step-sisters, no pumpkins or glass slippers, but the evening was magical just the same. I thought of all those songs that claim Inglewood or Chicago or some other city “know how to party” like no one else. Well, maybe so, but no one throws a Ball like New Orleans and the Krewe of Endymion. The evening was well worth the ticket price and may have to be repeated in the future…