Partying in the Streets
“Throw some to me,” you shriek to the costume-clad revelers on the Mardi Gras parade float passing slowly by. Batting away other outstretched hands, you manage to snag one of the bead necklaces tossed into the crowd. The thrill of Mardi Gras, the culmination of two months of Carnival celebrations, reaches its apex as the parades make their way down the streets of New Orleans. From the masquerading partiers all about town to the carousers on Bourbon Street to the all-consuming pleading for “throws,” at parades, Mardi Gras is festivity from start to finish, with plenty of opportunity for thrills over the course of the celebration.
Mary Herczog, author of Frommer’s New Orleans, is an expert on “throws.” She has both tossed throws from a float and been in the crowds—she calls the fanaticism surrounding the trinkets “bead lust.” As she explains, “First you stand there passively. All around you the strands fly thick and fast. You catch a few. ‘Hmm,’ you think, ‘they look kind of good around my neck.’ You reach more aggressively as the strands fly overhead. ‘Wait. That guy/cute girl/kid got a really good strand! How come I’m not getting any like that!’ Now you find yourself shrieking ‘Throw me something, Mister.’ You jump. You wail. You plead. You think, ‘This is really stupid. It’s a 5¢ piece of plastic—oh, look a really glittery strand! I want it. I want it.” The enthusiasm and excitement of a Mardi Gras parade is infectious.
You may have images of the more tawdry side of these parades, perhaps of women baring their chests, so the stud on the float will throw an extra nice set of beads to them. But there are more civilized and family-friendly spots from which to watch and hopefully participate. One of these areas is along St. Charles Street, where the parades are on one side of the street, while only foot traffic is allowed on the other. Bourbon Street is the setting for a more debauched scene, where you’ll see vulgar activity among the often drunken crowds.
New Orleans is also associated with musicians playing mellow jazz. During quieter days (before and after Mardi Gras), you may be able to sit on a balcony in the French Quarter and hear the sound of a saxophone wailing in the distance. If you’re a jazz fan, the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) is a must. It takes place annually in late April to early May. This festival offers its own set of thrills. Every spring, the festival showcases jazz, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, blues, R&B, rock, funk, African, Latin, Caribbean, folk, and much more on a dozen stages. Since its inception in 1970, some of the world’s greatest musicians, ranging from Wynton Marsalis, Fats Domino, and Harry Connick, Jr., to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Miles Davis, and Jimmy Buffet, have performed. Fans flock from around the world to see their beloved favorite musicians. The energy at Jazz Fest is high, even if some of the acts take it slow and easy, like the city itself.
When to Go: Carnival season is early Jan through late Feb. Mardi Gras (always a Tues) takes place every year 47 days before Easter.
$$ Bourbon Orleans Hotel, 717 Orleans St. ( 504/523-2222; www.bourbonorleans.com); $$–$$$ Loews New Orleans Hotel, 300 Poydras St. ( 800/23-LOEWS [235-6397] or 504/595-3300; www.loewshotels.com); $ Prytania Park Hotel, 1525 Prytania ( 800/862-1094 or 504/524-0427; www.prytaniaparkhotel.com).