I’ll admit that when I first moved to New Orleans in August 2016, I didn’t know much about Mardi Gras. In my mind, it was some nebulous thing out there involving extreme public drunkenness (no thanks) and flashing random strangers (double no thanks). I didn’t get what the big deal was or why everyone, not just co-eds and bachelor party-goers, seemed to love the holiday. Oh, and I also thought it was one day. Well, news flash: I turned out to be totally wrong!
The more I heard about Carnival from new friends and coworkers, the more excited I became. By the time winter blew in (and by “blew in” I mean the temperature went from sweltering to slightly cool because this is southern Louisiana), I was convinced. So much so, in fact, that I decided the best way to experience my first New Orleans Mardi Gras was for my husband and me to march in a parade. I started researching krewes, of which there are many. Krewes are private organizations that put on Mardi Gras parades. I was able to eliminate a bunch of krewes right off the bat, as most are secretive and invitation only. My investigation then brought me to the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus (IKOC), and my nerd self was instantly hooked.
IKOC was founded in fall 2010 and first rolled on Bacchus Sunday 2011 with their 7-foot-tall, alcohol-dispensing Bar2D2 contraption, pulled by the XXX-Wing tricycle. Since their humble, fairly recent beginnings, IKOC has grown to over 2,000 dues-paying members. Their mission is to “save the galaxy by bringing the magical revelry of Mardi Gras to the disenfranchised, socially awkward, and generally weird masses who may never have had the opportunity to participate in a Mardi Gras parade organization,” and that spirit of inclusiveness is what convinced a Mardi Gras virgin like myself to pay my dues ($42—the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, of course) and get ready to roll.
Because it’s such a large krewe, IKOC has several sub-krewes within the organization. For a nerd like myself, the hardest part of joining IKOC was picking which sub-krewe to align myself with. Naturally the most sub-krewes by far are devoted to Star Wars. If you like to dance, there are the Leijorettes, 610 Wampas, and Death Star Steppers. If you’ve got a dark side, there’s Sith Happens. If you’re into politics, you can join the Galactic Senate. Star Wars not your thing? Pretty much every other fandom is represented, from Mischief Managed (Harry Potterverse) to the All Wonder Woman Walking Krewe to the new Mystic Order of Mystery Science Krewe. My husband and I ended up joining the (now-defunct) Lord of the Rings–themed krewe.
The krewe captain hosted a throw-making event for everyone, where we were taught what exactly a throw is (anything you throw into the crowd, obviously!) as well as how to make IKOC bandoliers (a bandolier is what Chewbacca wears across his chest) and “bando blocks” (decorated rectangles with Velcro that attach to the bandolier), the krewe’s signature throw. As we were told, the cardinal rule is that you can never have too many throws, and you will always run out. IKOC is adamant about throws being handmade, and there are tons of crafters and artists in the krewe, so parade attendees end up with some pretty amazing swag! Being somewhat crafty myself, I hand-painted a bunch of bando blocks and also made bookmarks. All told I had about 200 throws to give out, and yes, I did run out.
Apart from making throws, IKOC members are also in charge of making their own costumes. I went as Frodo Baggins, and my husband wore some of his ren faire gear. We showed up at the parade lineup in Bywater about two hours before the parade was set to roll out (in retrospect, too early). Some of the most fun we had that night was walking up and down the line seeing all of the incredible costumes and contraptions IKOC members had built. We learned that costumes and props that light up are a definite plus for an evening parade, as lights made for the most impressive looks. Shortly before the parade rolled, we gathered with our sub-krewe, who were lovely people with plenty of MoonPies on hand to keep us nourished during the parade. Most had their own alcohol for the route, but only enough to make the night fun, not the sloppy Bourbon Street image I had in my mind.
When we finally started rolling (all parades start rolling late, always) it was an experience like no other. Along the entire route, people in all kinds of amazing costumes were exuberantly screaming for throws, snapping photos, and celebrating. Passing out throws gives you this weirdly enjoyable sense of power as you get to pick and choose whom you hand your treasures to (for me, mostly people with great costumes and wide-eyed little kids). People were as excited for my little cardboard bookmarks as if they were made of gold. The route was only a few miles and only moved about one mile an hour, but after keeping our energy at 110% for the whole parade, we were wiped. We briefly visited the Chewbacchanal, IKOC’s version of a Mardi Gras ball (minus the black tie, but with plenty of lasers), and then went home to crash. All in all, it was an amazing night.
There are plenty of IKOC haters out there, especially among the Mardi Gras purists. They see IKOC as an affront to the time-honored, secretive, exclusive krewes with long histories and traditions. I can understand that IKOC flouts tradition, and that may ruffle some feathers. I’m not one to talk, being a newcomer to the city, but in my book there’s nothing wrong with a welcoming group of nerds celebrating being weird in a big, fun way.
Ever rolled in a parade? Share with us how you revel by tagging #FrayLife and #NOLAFray on social media!
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