For over 3 years, this blog has mostly been a long love letter to New Orleans as I move from longtime visitor to citizen of the Who Dat Nation and part of the gumbo of this city. I’ve attended concerts, parades, festivals and more and shared the events with you readers. But when I participated in the Royal Sonesta‘s 43rd annual Greasing of the Poles, like Alice Through the Looking Glass, I stepped into the story. In order to keep revelers off the balcony during Mardi Gras, the Sonesta greases the poles on Bourbon Street with a celebrity-studded event and contest with fans spanning from locals on balconies dressed in wigs and costumes to the Greasing of the Poles Fan Club from Germany.
Over the years, the Greasing of the Poles has come to symbolize the official kick-off to the last (5 day) weekend of Mardi Gras. Perhaps the best part of stepping into this tradition is that my invitation came from a reader of this blog, a member of the Pussyfooters who thought I might be right to be a “celebrity greaser.” Considered one of the quirkier NOLA traditions, I love it for its “only in New Orleans” quality. The simple task of applying petroleum jelly to the poles supporting the hotel’s Bourbon Street balcony is an elaborate affair complete with bands, dance numbers and yes – 4 women on ladders rubbing poles with lubricant.
During a great breakfast provided by the hotel, I had the pleasure of meeting King of Zulu Cedric George Givens, Sir Saint, some Saintsations and Junior Galette, Jed Collins, Brian de la Puente and Isa Abdul-Quddus of the New Orleans Saints! After performances by the Pussyfooters and Leroy Jones and his Original Hurricane Brass Band, LeBron “LBJ” Joseph and Kelder Summers of Old School 106.7 FM introduced the celebrity judges; Saints punter Thomas Morstead, comedienne and Times Picayune columnist Jodi Borrello, Grammy & Billboard Award Winning Jazz Trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and star of New Orleans Opera Créole, Ivan Griffin. Griffin performed a fun, localized rendition of Hey Big Spender with Stephanie Robinson, Donielle Gervarve and Mandy Brown of the Pussyfooters and (I’m still getting used to the idea) me!
Then it was up to the poles for the greasing contest. We stood atop ladders (me with a spotter who took his job very seriously) and slathered the poles for about 5 minutes. At some point, looking over all the faces, I spotted my cousin in the crowd! I remembered years ago when Ken Block of the band Sister Hazel told me how nice it is to spot a similar face in a sea of strangers when you’re performing. Amen.
I didn’t win either of the awards. Distracted by the whole experience, I under-slathered my pole. Though it would have been fun to go home with a trophy, I was THRILLED to have been part of something as pomp-filled, ritualistic and supremely silly as the 43rd Annual Greasing of the Poles. As an added bonus, another blogger posted on the event and I got to know what it feels like when I mention someone in my own. CLICK HERE to read the post from NOLAFemmes.
Only in New Orleans would I then be whisked away to Mannings at 11am to judge a cocktail contest. The Krewe of Rocckus is a 3 day party hosted by band Better Than Ezra during Mardi Gras. Attendees are treated to concerts by Better Than Ezra and other musical guests, parades and even a second line with the Treme Brass Band and Mardi Gras Indians. When I told one woman I envied her that bit, she said she was sad Uncle Lionel wouldn’t be there this year. Aren’t we all. I remember running into him last Mardi Gras Day…
I’m not much of a drinker so for me the very best part of the contest was being reunited with my friends in Sister Hazel after all these years. They were serving as judges as well. At some point, I had to remark to guitarist Ryan Newell, “New Orleans is like a beautiful woman at a party, she doesn’t have to move an inch because eventually everyone makes their way to her table.” And I got to be the familiar face in the crowd for Ken Block again. What an amazing end to a triumphant morning! I felt like a warped version of a Marine – I’d done more partying by lunch than most people will do in a week.
After a nap and a late start, I attended the d’Etat and Morpheus parades. Knowing that I’d never be able to edit the video fast enough, I decided to just go to the parades and enjoy dancing and catching beads without worry for my camera. The Friday night parades are characterized by “blinky” throws – beads and rings that blink in the night making the crowd look like a miles-long chaotic Christmas tree. We weathered the one hour delay for a broken down float and were rewarded by much lighter crowds and less competition for beads. Not a bad way to kick off the last weekend of Mardi Gras.