The Krewe of Bacchus rolls one of the most popular parades of the season. It usually ends the 4 parade Sunday marathon, the giant splash at the end of a fireworks display, but because Endymion was cancelled the day before, we would still have another super-krewe after the 3 hour-ish Bacchus parade. A super-krewe is usually defined as having celebrity marshals and tandem floats as long as skyscrapers lying down.
The history of Bacchus is a family story, a Brennen family story. Owen Brennan, Sr., owner of the Absinthe House on Bourbon Street and Brennan’s Restaurant on Royal, started the Krewe of Bacchus in 1949 to usurp New Orleans high society’s grip on Carnival by opening krewe membership to tourists. The idea faded until 1968 when Brennen’s son, Owen “Pip” Brennan, Jr., decided to revive his father’s vision, but bigger and better. He invited Danny Kaye, a Hollywood icon and outsider to New Orleans, to be the first ever celebrity king (breaking 113 years of tradition) and roll with the 250 members on 15 floats. Today, the Krewe of Bacchus boasts more than 1,350 members and 33 super-floats.
Back in the day, riders would throw one or 2 strands of beads per block and the lucky caught a few strands per parade – Czech glass back then. Pip decided to shower spectators with throws, dumping over a million strings of beads and 300,000 doubloons during that first parade. One can imagine how quickly the parade became a favorite. (Though I still covet the 2 strands of glass beads I got this year).
Pip Brennan is still Captain, now joined by his sons, Owen III, Clark, and Blake Brennan. Tandem floats were also invented by a Krewe of Bacchus member while he stared out an airport window marveling at how the luggage carts were able to make turns while linked by chains.
This year’s King was Andy Garcia and the theme was, “Bacchus Salutes America’s Greatest Generation,” a tribute to the generation that lived through WWII. My favorite theme float was the one based on that wonderful Alfred Eisenstaedt photo of the sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. But, this parade has some of the most fun permanent floats. There’s an entire Kong family with King Kong, Mrs. Kong (dressed as a nurse and applying lipstick) and baby Kong. There’s also Bacchagator, the super-long alligator originally designed for the 1984 World’s Fair’s rear gate. I’m not sure how the tradition started, but people try to get beads in the gator’s mouth, making Bacchagator one of the few floats we throw beads at!
Mayor Mitch Landrieu opened the parade followed by the Bone Tone Brass Band as well as bands from the Army and the Marines. Then came an avalanche of schools including, once again, the St. Augustine Marching 100, Jesuit playing When the Saints Come Marching In, O.Perry Walker, John McDonogh, McDonogh #35 and #32, G.W Carver, Warren Easton, St. Mary’s, Tulane, Saint Paul’s celebrating 100 years in their funky fun Zoot suits, Reed, L.B. Landry, Walter L. Cohen, East Jefferson, Sophie B. Wright, Karr, East St. John, Helen Cox, Dr. King, Greenville Weston and Byhalia out of Mississippi, Shaw from Cleveland, Martin Behrman, James Singleton, and the evening’s favorite, Wossman out of Monroe, LA. The parade experienced many stops and Wossman was parked in front of us for about 10 minutes during which time they played several songs and danced with soul, flavor and giant drums strapped on. Enjoy them on the (sorry so dark) video.
In addition to all the other technical difficulties my cameras have been trying to overcome, when a well-lit float sits under a streetlight for some time, it turns off the light, leaving us and the bands in the dark as it rolls off, but Roots of Music sounded just as good in the dark.
Petosky’s Steel Drum Band rolled on a double decker float so full of rhythm, it bounced its way down St. Charles. And local radio station, WWOZ, closed out the parade with special throws made of CD’s covered in glitter.
It was more than enough to close out a great day of parades… but we still had Endymion, another super-krewe, to go!