Zulu introduced satire to Mardi Gras. By giving its king a lard can crown and a banana stalk scepter as signs of royalty when it first rolled in 1909, it rudely burlesqued the pretensions to actual royalty of Rex. That mocking spirit—of current events and Mardi Gras itself—is one that finds voice again and again in groups trying to get off the sidewalk and be a part of Mardi Gras. The Krewe du Vieux is the best-known version, a parade that cheerfully gives the middle finger to good taste as it offers a low-rent, hot-glued parade of political satire and marching sperm.
There were insurgent, unofficial parades before KdV first paraded in 1987, and others have started since. The Krewe of St. Anne has been marching on Fat Tuesday since 1969, and the Krewe of Box of Wine has been marching in front of Bacchus since the 1990s. Some families and friends participate in Mardi Gras by reliving yearly rituals; some mask, and some form their own homemade krewes in the spirit of Zulu to play in the streets.
Krewedelusion, for instance, started last year. Its debt to Krewe du Vieux is signaled first by its parade time—a half-hour after Krewe du Vieux on the same route—its adherence to KdV’s sub-krewe organizational structure, and its irreverent spirit. Krewedelusion’s “king-at-large” is actor Harry Shearer, and its “Declaration of Depends” proclaims that “krewedelusion operates as a dictablanda that appoints a Beneficent Ruler, embraces transparency and has a safeword.” Its mission, it declares, “is to save the Universe, beginning at its center.”
’tit Rex (pronounced “tee-rex”) started last year as well as a lighthearted jab to the more popular krewes. Rather than try to be big, ’tit Rex went small, and is Carnival’s first micro-krewe. “We got the idea from the shoebox floats that kids in the area did at school,” says Janine Hayes, ’tit Rex Treasurer and a founding member. The float builders dress in formalwear and pull their floats behind them when they parade. “It’s a response to these superkrewes that go in the opposite direction,” Hayes says. “We have shoebox floats and miniature throws that we make. The bigger krewes are fine—I love Muses, I love Mardi Gras in general—and there are a lot of similarities. We have a theme (“Too Little, Too Late”), we have a king and a queen, but we’re alternative.”
Staying true to the ideal of a smaller, more personal Mardi Gras, the Krewe of ’tit Rex membership does not exceed 60 people, and are devoid of exorbitant membership fees and years-long waiting periods to join. “When we started, there were 10 or 12 floats,” Hayes says. “We’ve doubled since then, but we’re trying to keep it small. This krewe started with a group of friends, and friends inviting friends. Artists, teachers, people with regular jobs with artistic qualities.”
’tit Rex starts at Bacchanal in the Bywater on Saturday, February 26 at 5:30 p.m. and ends at Vaughan’s. When it parades, its smallness isn’t just a gimmick. According to Hayes, “Our first year, the people there were so surprised, so happy. We brought them something they could see with no ladder, no need to stake out an area and fight with people.”
The Krewe of Chewbacchus adheres to similar ideals. At the Mid-City warehouse that serves as its den, members help each other with miniature flying saucers, checking the photos stuck to the wall to ensure the accuracy of the flagship X-Wing art bike and the six-or-so-foot Bar-2D-2. “All of these materials are found or donated or people just bring them in,” says Ryan Ballard, or as he will be more colloquially known to parade-goers, King Chewbaccacabra. Ballard, who is also a member of Krewe du Vieux, is passionate about things—Chewbacchus, Mardi Gras and science fiction to name a few. “I’ve always been a sci-fi nerd and a hardcore reveler,” he says. “I thought it was time someone brought them together.” His costume is a juxtaposition of everyone’s favorite wookiee and the mythic Chupacabra, complete with homemade goat-carcass camelback filled with wine.
In this, Chewbacchus’ first year parading, the krewe based in the Big Top—like ’tit Rex, art-friendly—heads out Sunday, March 6 at 5 p.m. before Bacchus and parades backwards. “We got permission to go the opposite direction as everyone else down St. Charles,” Ballard says. He utilizes what he learned from Krewe du Vieux and applies it to Chewbacchus. “You’ve got to keep it home-made and hand-built,” he says.
Rex, Bacchus, Muses and Endymion are staples of carnival season, and the crowds and spectacle they create have come to define the parade experience. The smaller rogue krewes offer a more intimate, participatory experience. Stand still at the Krewe du Vieux parade and someone will hand you something to read—likely, something off-color. For the first ’tit Rex parade, a family made a mini-reviewing stand by the side of the street where action figures watched the floats go by.
“We’re out there with the people,” King Chewbaccacabra says. “We keep it street level. I’ll ride right up to people and let them drink out of my goat.”