Pete Fountain, clarinet in hand and dapper in a white tuxedo and fedora trimmed in gold, kicked off Mardi Gras with his “Half Fast Walking Club” as he has for 50 years: with beads and jazz.
Fountain, 79, has marched every year except the year after Hurricane Katrina hit, when he had bypass surgery.
“We’re slower than we were and older than we were,” Fountain said with a laugh. “But on Mardi Gras none of it matters.”
Tuesday, the final day of Carnival — the celebration before the fasting season of Lent begins Ash Wednesday — was sunny and cold with high temperatures expected to hang around 50 degrees.
“I have plenty of antifreeze with me if I need it,” said Jessie Grace, 57, playfully waving a flask. “If Mardi Gras doesn’t warm you up, nothing will.”
Grace and about 30 family members and friends staked out their spot on St. Charles Avenue at 2 a.m., setting up chairs and tables. By 7 a.m., gumbo was cooking in a big pot and ribs were on the barbecue grill.
A week after the parade celebrating the Saints’ first Super Bowl win, that joy fed into Mardi Gras.
Many of those along the parade route wore Saints jerseys. One group of cyclists was costumed as flying pigs, which long-suffering fans had always said they would see if the Saints won the big game.
“Hell froze over,” said Sandra Bell, 51, shivering under a blanket. “Can’t you feel it?”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, coach Sean Payton and owner Tom Benson served as monarchs of parades. More players rode with the Krewe of Zulu.
“It’s a big, big deal,” said Glynn Brown, 55, who said he had taken out a second mortgage to pay for the Saints gear he and his family were decked out in. “But Mardi Gras is our heritage.”
Crowds were bigger than normal for all the parades during the week and again on Tuesday as the colorful floats, laden with costumed riders, passed by.