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Confessions of a Krewe du Vieux Member

For most of the world, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is known for its enormous parades and mega-krewes, but for locals, the tradition of political satire is the truest expression of the spirit and purpose of Carnival.

Peter Athas tells the story of the Krewe du Vieux and how his “sub-krewe”- the Krewe of Spank- have carried on that tradition with irreverent and unapologetic gusto.

Satire has been a part of Carnival in New Orleans from the beginning. There was the legendary 1873 Krewe of Comus parade, which satirized the Union occupation of New Orleans as well as Reconstruction. Comus turned some prominent politico-military figures such as General/President Ulysses Grant and General Benjamin Butler (who was in command of the occupation of New Orleans in 1862) into bugs:

Source: Historic New Orleans Collection

Given that the old line parading krewes have always been made up of well-off white dudes, most of their satire is right-wing in nature. (Zulu was founded to give black folks the chance to mock the stuffed shirts of Rex.) The current krewes of  d’Etat and Chaos carry on that tradition. The all-female Krewe of Muses engages in some mildly liberal satire, but that parade is best known for its gorgeous floats, literate themes, and elaborately decorated shoes. Only in New Orleans do people want a masked woman to throw a used high heel at them.

There is one satirical krewe that skews left:  Krewe du Vieux  of which I happen to be a member. Krewe du Vieux was founded in 1987. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the mythical many-headed hydra with what we call the Mother Krewe as the body of the serpent. The heads of the Krewe Du Vieux serpent are the 17 sub-krewes. I belong to the Krewe of Spank. We’re a relatively new sub-krewe, we rose out of the ashes of the krewe of PAN like a tipsy Phoenix after a year of suspension and protest:

The only thing we occupied was the Den of Muses, which is where Krewe du Vieux floats are brought to life by sub-krewe members. The story of how PAN morphed into Spank is a long one. It’s best saved for another time. Instead, I’ll tell you my Krewe du Vieux origin story.  

I joined in 2007 through my close friend and fellow NOLA blogger Ashley Morris of FYFF fame. One day as he went on about parade prep, I posed the eternal question: “Who do I need to kill or fuck to join Krewe du Vieux?” 

Ashley: “I know a guy. He’s a total asshole but I know a guy.”

Me: “Who?”

Ashley did a pitch perfect Bob Newhart impression:  “That, that would be me.”

The sub-krewe turned out to be PAN.

Ashley played the Mime in PAN’s first post-Katrina/Federal Flood parade with the overall theme, C’est Levee. PAN’s theme was Buy Us Back, Chirac.

Jacques Chirac was French president in 2006. It has a better ring than Give Us A Macaron, Macron.

Two years after Ashley’s tragic death at the age of 45, we recreated that march for the HBO television series Treme. John Goodman’s character, Creighton Burnette, was loosely based on Ashley. His rants came from Ashley’s blog, but they made Creighton a vlogger because watching a large man type is rotten teevee. (In case you’re wondering, the producers paid Ashley’s family for the rights to the posts used.) I wrote about our exploits in a post titled Confessions Of A Carnival Parade Recreator.  I have a minor confession: Spank purchased the float made for Treme and uses it to this very day.

The first year I marched in Krewe du Vieux was 2007.  PAN dressed as convicts and called for a return to the Gret Stet of Louisiana’s tradition of competent corruption:

My wife Grace and I made a sign in ironic celebration of the 2 Louisiana governors who have gone to prison: Dick Leche and Edwin Edwards.  

The thing that I love most about Krewe du Vieux is that it’s a homemade/handmade parade. Marchers design and build the float themselves. Sub-krewe members create their own themes and throws as a collective. I’ve pitched in my share of ideas over the years BUT individuals don’t take credit for their contributions; that belongs to the krewe, which is why Ashley Morris is the only name I drop in this essay. I want to protect the guilty along with the innocent. Additionally, I’m not a builder. Spank’s float captain keeps me away from power tools because in my hands they’re lethal weapons. I’m strictly an idea man and some of them are even good ones.

I’m not going to overwhelm y’all with a year-by-year account of my sub-krewe’s doings but there are a few years that should be of particular interest to Bayou Brief readers.

The first year Spank marched was 2013 in the wake of the Bountygate fake-scandal. Saints head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma among others were suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. We took aim at the Commissioner and made him sit next to Vilma:

I was recently asked if we plan to satirize “no-call gate.” In a word: no. It happened too close to the February 16th date of this year’s parade for us to change our theme, but we might have a surprise up our Spanky sleeve as lagniappe. Remember: krewe members have to do all the work in our spare time. Besides, been there, done that in 2013 with Spank Delays the Game. We dressed as referees and one of our throws was a fake penalty flag, wrapped around a super ball as seen below with our other throws. 

One of the best themes we’ve ever done was in 2014: Welcome to Dizneylandrieu. In many ways, it’s Spank’s masterpiece. We went after then Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his gentrifying ways. For years, many locals referred to the creeping commercialism of the French Quarter as turning it into “Disneyland on the Bayou.”

Spank extended the analogy by arguing that the entire city had become Mitchey Mayor’s Gentrified Kingdom. Our marchers dressed as Mitchketeers and this was our official logo:

The Spank collective came up with some buttons and a tourist style brochure with which to mock Dizneylandrieu:

The Krewe of Spank specializes in local satire. There’s enough weird stuff happening in New Orleans to keep us occupied. In 2017, we tackled another local sacred cow: Jazz Fest.

We heard through the grapevine that Jazz Fest honcho Quint Davis was not amused with how we satirized the festival. That meant we did a good job, especially with our throws. It’s one reason I’ve focused on them in this photo essay. We tear down the float after every parade, but the throws are eternal. Just ask my publisher.

In addition to progressive political satire, the other Krewe du Vieux sub-krewes are notoriously bawdy and often downright obscene. I’ve nicknamed it the “Penis Parade” because there’s always some dickish humor as you can see from this 2014 classic from the krewe of Drips and Discharges:

I’m usually a lousy photographer but that’s one of my rare good pictures. I call it (what else?) the Skating Dick.

As you can see, Krewe du Vieux is not for everyone. If you have impressionable children, I don’t recommend that you bring them to the parade; unless, that is, you don’t mind explaining papier mache phalluses and vaginas. Yes, some krewes go there too. We may be politically progressive but we’re not politically correct. How could we be with sub-krewes such as Craps, Comatose, Drips and Discharges, Crude, Lewd, Mishigas, Spermes, and Underwear?

This year’s parade rolls through the Marigny and French Quarter on Saturday February 16 at 6:30 PM.

The overall theme takes a poke at Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s favorite slogan: City Of Yes, Yes. Oh God Yes.

As to the details of Spank’s theme that’s top-secret, but one thing you can be sure of is that we’ll be wielding these:

Don’t worry: we don’t spank very hard. See you on the street.

Peter Athas has been blogging as Adrastos since 2005. He is currently one of the principal bloggers at First Draft. He is a founding member of the Spank sub-krewe of Krewe du Vieux and one of the founders of the Rising Tide Conference. He apparently has a penchant for founding things. He lives in Uptown New Orleans with his wife and two cats.

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