Is there a Jazzfest “Season?”

On my bike the other morning I noticed a house with a Jazzfast flag flying. Behind Rouses, a Miller Lite truck proclaimed itself “The Official Drink of Jazzfest.” (Granted, that sign could’ve been on the truck all year) With Carnival Season parading off into storage units does that mean we’re in Jazzfest season? And is there such a thing? Carnival Season involves costumes, king cakes, parties and parades. In the months leading up to Jazzfest are there related celebrations? (I should note that some years Mardi Gras Day is later in the calendar, so the time between Mardi Gras and Jazzfest is truncated.)

The Seasons of New Orleans
I’ve written about how I miss the changing weather of D.C. Growing up, I found the eternal spring-summer cycle in my hometown of Miami dulling. However, New Orleans makes a slightly more differentiated spring-summer cycle by creating seasons of its own, marked by festivals and extended holiday celebrations. My blog-post hypothesis is that these festivals and celebrations create a rhythm to the year and mark time in a way that the city’s slightly colder winter and brutal summers do not.

Fall through start of Winter: Football and Christmas
September in New Orleans reminds me of living in a college town in that the whole city is galvanized by a sporting event. People here are nuts about LSU and the SEC. As a Gator I am always ruffled by LSU-ness of the celebration around here, but am grateful to be around a community that enjoys college football (and the SEC!). It’s a welcome reprise from living in D.C., which is more of a pro-sports town.

I’ve written about the Saints excitement many, many, many, many, many, many times. But this year marked the first time I watched a LOT of the NFL. It feels like you have to here, or you’re left out of cultural conversation and references. I used to only spend Saturdays at the bar to catch my college team. Now it’s all bar, all weekend… and I guess that’s New Orleans in a microcosm.

New Orleans also does a great job creating a festive Christmas atmosphere. The French Quarter Festival and The New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation organize Christmas New Orleans Style, an annual citywide celebration of New Orleans holiday activities. The festival started 27 years ago, as way to attract visitors to the city at a time when tourism traditionally dips. Throughout the month there are events around the city that remind you of the season. And even though we have had a mild winter, walking through the French Quarter in December felt like Christmas.

Carnival Season

March is marked by St. Patrick’s Day, April by the French Quarter Festival and then Jazzfest in April/May. That’s more than enough, but I point you back to my hypothesis: Is there something that unites the season?

Now that I’ve nearly lived here a year, I recognize summer as the city’s downtime. The summer, like the spring,  is punctuated by festivals and regular events, some of which I’ve blogged about here: 610 Stompers, Satchmo Fest and White Linen Night, but there doesn’t seem to be one element that captures the city’s excitement.

Update: Seasonal Beers 3/1/12
Upon relaying this post’s topic to my boyfriend, he reminded me of seasonal beers. We are lucky to have a number of great local breweries, including LA 31, Covington Brewhouse, Tin Roof and Lazy Magnolia. However, Abita is the line I’m really familiar with, and the release of their seasonal brews always mark the season for me.

January-March: Mardi Gras Bock
Spring: Strawberry Harvest
March-May: Red Ale
May-September: Wheat
Summer: Satsuma Harvest Wit
Fall: Pecan Harvest
September-November: Fall Fest
November-December: Christmas Ale

When my boyfriend and I moved into our Uptown sublet in June, our summer landlord was kind enough to leave us some Strawberry ale in the fridge. When we moved out we bought a pack of Satsuma ale for her– a remnant of the New Orleans summer she had missed.

NOLA Brewery also releases seasonal beer, but I’m not as certain about the seasons they’re out because they’re a relatively new brewery. As far as I can tell:

Fall: Smoky Mary
Winter: Irish Channel Stout
January-March: Flambeau Red Ale (for Mardi Gras)
Spring: Hurricane Saison


The Krewe of Muses M Flags

You may have seen this flag, which represents the Krewe of Muses. My New Orleanian was a little rusty when Carnival season began and for a moment I wondered if the M stood for Mardi Gras.

There are so many M flags flying–I’ve seen about six on neighboring streets–but wiki says Muses has 2,000 members. Are all of these flag fliers members of the Krewe? Or are they simply fans of the parade? I don’t think I’d feel comfortable flying a Muses flag unless I was involved– but that’s just me. What is the customary around here?

UPDATE, 2/2/12: The M flag represents the home of a Muse. However, as you’ll see in the comments of this post, not all Krewe members actually participate in the parade.

Mardi Gras Terms

What is a Krewe?
A Krewe is an organization that puts on a Mardi Gras parade, walks in a parade and/or organizes a ball. Some of the groups do all three and some just hold a ball.

How do you join a Krewe?
Some are invite only. Some krewes allow you to join if you just pay the dues. The dues cover parade costs, float-building costs, and the costs of throws. Apparently, Muses is not accepting new members.

What is Muses?
Muses is an all-female Krewe that started in 2001. Their parade is always the Thursday before Mardi Gras Day. Muses is known for their signature throw– an elaborately hand-decorated high heeled shoes, often covered in glitter.

Here is a blog post where a Muses rider answers  more questions about the krewe.

What is a throw?
A “throw” is a slang for the trinkets thrown to the crowds during during Mardi  Gras parade. I believe the only krewe that does not actually throw their hand outs is Zulu, because they hand out coconuts and some dumb dumb got hit in the head with a coconut and sued.

From Go The Top 5 Mardi Gras Throws

Carnival Misunderstandings

“It’s Carnival,” said one of the men sitting outside Fair Grinds coffee house a few weeks ago. (See my post on eavesdropping.)

Carnival is the season that leads up to Mardi Gras day. I’m clarifying this because it wasn’t clear to me when I lived here in 2004. I thought Carnival was an alternate name for the actual day of Mardi Gras, not a sanctioned season. I assumed that Mardi Gras decoration and king cakes appeared at the start of January because commercialization had lured vendors to start the party early, I assumed the influence of commercialization extended the celebration, in much the same way that Christmas now seems to begin on November 1.

King Cake Creep
Turns out I was half right. January 6th is known as Twelfth Night, the day that the three wise men brought gifts to Jesus. It marks the end of the Christmas season and the official beginning of Mardi Gras season–Carnival, as the man outside Fair Grinds said. I didn’t realize the connection to the Christian holidays–we’ll just my Semitic heritage. And the January 6 date explains the new year’s arrival of those king cakes.

Well wishers see off the Phellows

Twelfth Night is also when the Phunny Phorty Phellows krewe packs into a streetcar and rides down St. Charles Avenue to announce Carnival’s arrival. It  to be a true New Orleanian, one must wait to consume king cake until the Phunny Phorty Phellows have made their round trip through the Garden District. Eating the cake beforehand is called king cake creep. As the Phellows’ Captain told Nola Defender, “We consider ourselves the heralds of Carnival. We’re announcing that the Carnival season has begun, and now it’s officially okay to eat king cake.”

Seeing Off the Phunny Phorty Phellows
My boyfriend and I went with hundreds of others to watch the Phunny Phorty Phellows depart from the Willow Street car barn. The scene was packed costumes and colors. I should know by now that every occasion in NOLA requires a costume, but the costumes on this night didn’t seem to have a point– just a raid on the costume box.

The scene was scattered, but joyful. People greeted old friends and danced to a brass band as we waited for the streetcar to depart and pull the Carnival trigger. As the streetcar left the station the crowd slowly parted. My boyfriend and I stood to one side, unsure if the Phunny Phellows threw beads (they did. we didn’t get any.) The krewe whizzed by, abuzz in beer and revelry and  the crowd dispersed immediately afterward, as if nothing had happened. It was anticlimatic, in a way.

I assumed there were crowds of people waiting on St. Charles, just as there are during the big Mardi Gras parades. But the streets were inactive. My friend saw the Phellows on their way back to the streetcar barn, and she told me they were no longer cheering out the window. I guess the Phunny Phorty Phellows start off Carnival with the quick burst of a firecracker… which might be a good idea, because we’ve got a long season ahead of us.

Lagniappe: Mardi Gras Float Storage

Hi everyone! I’ve been in New Orleans for a few days now. More thoughts and posts coming this week, but I’ve been quite busy settling in.

I was walking around yesterday and caught a very New Orleans site: Mardi Gras float storage. The doors were open, so I snapped a few pictures.

I’m featuring the pictures here as part of an occasional series I will call Lagniappe, which means “a little something extra.” Lagniappe is a very popular term around here.

Catching the float storage facility made me smile. So quintessentially New Orleans! Once, when I used to live here, I got caught in traffic  behind Mardi Gras floats that were being transported downtown at about 10 mph. I cursed and shook my fists at them, until I reminded myself that driving behind Mardi Gras floats is something that could only happen in NOLA.

That serenity lasted about five minutes and then I went back to cursing them.

When I first moved to D.C. I thought it was charming to  get stuck on a street corner because of a motorcade. How quintessentially Washingtonian! But then I learned that most motorcades aren’t for the president. And then motorcades just became something that made me late. They soon lost their charm.

Will I be able to call myself a New Orleanian once Mardi Gras floats do not delight me?