NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Revelers in glitzy costumes filled the streets of New Orleans on Tuesday for the annual Mardi Gras bash, opening a day of partying, parades and good-natured jostling for beads and trinkets tossed from passing floats.
A retired musician, clarinetist Pete Fountain, rode a mini float decked out as a trolley ahead of a march by his group, the Half-Fast Walking Club, to kick off a day of parades on what is known as “Fat Tuesday.”
The Rev. Byron Miller started Fountain’s group on its way with a prayer, invoking “the God of laughter and love” as marchers set out on a miles-long trek after early morning rain cleared out, leaving many buttoning up amid temperatures in the 30s and 40s early in the day.
Celebrities and celebrity watchers are also around each Mardi Gras and this year was no exception.
The cast of the CBS crime drama “NCIS: New Orleans” got to experience an early taste of Mardi Gras firsthand as they rode in the parade of Orpheus on Monday, tossing beads to revelers lining city streets before heading to an overnight ball. Their Mardi Gras episode airs Tuesday night at 8 p.m. CST.
Other celebrities joining in this year’s revelry were comedian Ron White and country music star Dierks Bentley. Al Johnson, singer of the catchy Mardi Gras tune “Carnival Time,” served as grand marshal of the Red Beans and Rice foot parade, another Monday prelude to the day.
Some got a jump on the day’s celebrations by donning tuxedoes and evening gowns for elegant balls lasting into the early hours Tuesday. Ordinary folks took to dressing up. Friends Alexandra Sergutin and Ashley Dornier of New Orleans said donning elegant gowns for the Carnival balls is one of their favorite Mardi Gras activities.
“It feels good to be a part of that tradition. It really does. It touches your heart,” said Sergutin, draped in colorful beads. ” … You’re a part of something amazing and big.”
Celebrations also were scheduled throughout south Louisiana and in coastal Mississippi and Alabama, sharing the traditions brought by French Catholic colonists in the 18th century. In Louisiana’s swampy bayou parishes, costumed riders on horseback go from farm to farm, collecting ingredients for a huge community gumbo.
Parades on Tuesday were to include the “krewe of Rex, king of Carnival,” who wears a golden crown and carries a golden scepter. That group features some of the season’s most wildly fantastic floats. After Rex two groups were to follow in “truck floats” — hundreds of flatbed trailers topped by costumed riders — whether families, clubs or other social groups.
The parades wind down late Tuesday afternoon and outdoor celebrations cease at midnight, when the solemn Catholic season of Lent begins. New Orleans police ride horseback down the French Quarter’s main tourist throughoufare, Bourbon Street, to clear the last tipsy revelers as the party ends for another year.