KREWE OF THE COMMUNITY
Highland Neighborhood vibe pays homage to carnival season
The carnival season and Mardi Gras in Louisiana has roots that transport people back to the early days and what was often a wilder time in history.
The art, food, music, history and culture come together to form a krewe and a parade that welcomes the community to join in the fun.
This year’s Krewe of Highland parade will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 15 and is free and open to the public. The parade runs through the heart of the historic Highland neighborhood, where the architecture and openness of the diverse people who live and work there give it a distinct feel that delights visitors.
Krewe of Character
Highland is full of character, from its people to its homes to its businesses.
Emma McCarty lives in Highland with her husband Dave and their daughters, and she is a member of the Krewe of Highland and a past-queen.
“The thing about the Krewe of Highland is we’re the only krewe that is only out there to be quirky and fun,” she said. “Highland is very eclectic and we know this is just a reason to have a celebration. There is very little formality in the krewe and whatever formal stuff that we do is always tongue-in-cheek.”
McCarty said it isn’t easy finding just the right words or labels to describe the Krewe of Highland.
“We’re the other people from the irreverent krewe,” she said laughing. “We’re that table that claps a bit too loudly. We like to do things differently. For example, when Dave was king his crown was made out of melted record albums.”
McCarty said it’s not difficult to join the krewe, however. “People are always asking me how they can be invited to join, but all you have to do is sign up for the parade,” she said. “I got involved initially the way most people do. I went to the ball, then someone invited me to be queen. I didn’t really feel like I’d done anything but dress up and go to the parties, so after that year, I agreed to run things. It’s 10 people every year that pull all of it together, usually the royalty, but Matthew [Lynn] and Marsha [Millican] are always there. This year’s Highland King and Queen are Alan and Erin Berry.”
Being in the krewe, however, does take up a lot of time. “The coronations for the court begin way back in August,” McCarty said. “Then there are 13 coronations through October. We break for the holidays, then we begin again on Twelfth Night and keep going until Mardi Gras day.”
Robin Drury is a captain in the Krewe of Highland and is relatively new to the organization.
“I didn’t realize how much work goes into it,” she said. “It is worth the hard work but seeing it has made me so thankful to the other krewes like Gemini and Centaur for what they do.”
Drury is responsible for organizing the Highland Ball, from the catering and music to the invitations. “Anyone can buy a ticket and attend,” she said, “but we do send out invitations to the other krewes. It is totally different than the other balls. Those are formal with tuxedos and they are held at the [Shreveport] Convention Center or a casino. You have to wear a costume to our ball – the crazier the better. We also present our royalty differently. Ours is more of a roast than it is a list of all of our achievements. Our presentation is funny and just a little inappropriate.”
Drury’s response when asked to describe one of her favorite memories of the ball pretty much summed up the bawdy spirit of the krewe: “Um, no … I can’t talk about that. No, better not say that, either.
Well … the first ball that I ever went to was when David McCarty was King Dave came dressed as David Bowie. He had even gotten contacts so his eyes were two different colors like Bowie’s and had bleached his hair. He got up on stage and sang and I remember thinking this is so awesome.”
The krewe members pointed out that there is actually more to the Krewe of Highland than just, in their words, the coolest party of the year.
Although the Krewe of Highland does have nonprofit status, McCarty said the members don’t really rake in a lot of money. “Our mission is to involve the people in the Highland neighborhood,” McCarty said. “For example, the Byrd Band is our official high school band. A lot of people participate and get to know each other. It’s more about neighborhood outreach than historic preservation.”
The popularity of the Krewe of Highland and its parade continues to grow every year. Part of the flavor and feel comes from the fact that the parade is held in broad daylight in the mid-afternoon (although people start gathering much earlier) so it provides the perfect free event for families looking to participate in the Carnival season. It is easy to get to the parade route, which runs right by Columbia Park (at Columbia Street between Line Avenue and Creswell Avenue).
The park offers a fun place to play, enjoy delicious food and dance to live music. The parade route itself is part of the attraction, providing the best form of people watching as a form of entertainment. Before the parade even begins, revelers gather and “walk the route” in one of the biggest parties Highland ever sees, with people sharing food hot off the grill and music blasting everywhere.
Shreveport artist Rachel Addy lived on Creswell Avenue for years and she described the appeal of the Highland Parade.
“It seems to be the only parade where people wear costumes,” she said. “I would see the floats drive by early before the parade, and got to hear people tooting horns and laughing as early as 11 a.m. on parade day. Everyone’s so happy. It’s hands down my favorite day of the year.”
McCarty said she couldn’t talk about the Krewe of Highland Parade without mentioning Lynn. It was truly all Lynn that got it started. One day he just went to a bunch of people he knew and said, “Hey, I’m going to have a parade for Mardi Gras.” The next day, he requested that the street be closed for the parade. That first year, people came out with their shopping baskets, strollers and bikes. It was tiny but then got a little bit bigger.
One of the most recognizable icons of the parade was actually a bandit in those early years. “People kept telling Matthew that the hot dog float was their favorite thing. For several years, people would come up and tell him, ‘my favorite thing is that guy that throws hotdogs!’ As it turns out, that guy was Jeff Clark and he had been using an unauthorized, unregistered parade vehicle. Legend has it Lynn decided to investigate and noticed Clark would slide his float into the parade after it started and would begin throwing hot dogs to the crowd. Lynn supposedly approached Clark with a bill for back entries.
When Clark balked, Lynn said, “Okay, then, what if I make you king?” That spirit of ingenuity and creativity is encouraged and almost anyone can enter the parade. Past parade vehicles have included anything that rolls, such as shopping carts, flatbed trailers and vintage low-riding automobile, in addition to floats used in the other Mardi Gras parades.
Noma Fowler-Sandlin has attended the parade many times. “I liked it best when it was still arty,” she said. “Bruce Allen constructed this kinetic sculpture of pairs of feet that marched in a line.
David Nelson had a bike with a screen and projector on it. I love that so much more than seeing big floats recycled from other parades.”
Susan Caldwell walks or rides in the parade each year with the Krewe of Sue, an all-female krewe at present, but always open to male members if they ever find a boy named Sue. “My favorite memories include riding or walking with my Sues, of course,” Caldwell said, “and seeing a bunch of my friends and throwing them stuff … and trying to make it through the whole parade without clocking some poor little kid with beads.”
Safety First but No Campaigning
In fact, safety is a priority for parade organizers. Everyone who participates must attend a meeting to go over the rules. There, participants are given instructions on the proper way to throw beads and other throws. In another move to keep things safe, all drivers have to take a mandatory breathalyzer test before being allowed to drive a vehicle in the parade. In case there is any doubt, the official rules clearly state that “the pulling driver must be SOBER, this means stone-cold-sober.” All drivers must also provide proof of insurance.
The complete list of rules can be found at www.kreweofhighland.org. It is not the longest list of rules in the parade world and it is a fun read. For instance, confetti and silly string are strictly forbidden as throws and are referred to as “otherwise hateful substances” that are “toxic and difficult to clean up.” Campaigning for any public office is also strictly forbidden on the parade route, but that’s just lagniappe and one more good reason to attend. The rules clearly state that, “Anyone caught campaigning will have taco sauce slung at them by the current king and queen during the post-parade Carnivale.” And if you still don’t know you’re in Louisiana, another rule states that “all riding lawn mowers should have the blade drive belt removed.”
The parade floats and people are a fun melting pot of art and culture, but the parade is perhaps best known for its kooky and creative throws. Of course, thousands of strands of beads and plastic trinkets are thrown, along with stuffed animals and other more coveted throws, but food throws seem to be among the most popular items hurtling through the air. Moon Pies and hot dogs are an expected tradition at this point, and the Krewe of Sue throws Ramen noodles.
“It’s sue-p, of course,” Caldwell said. It’s also cheap, but Caldwell maintains people love getting them.
Souvenirs and Memories
Parade-goers truly never know what they are going to walk away with, Terri Hensley said. Hensley is in the Krewe de les Femmes Mystique Gemini and rides a float in the Highland Parade every year. She distinctly remembers “a kid in the crowd making a bid for my husband’s glittered hat. He said, ‘Yo dude! I want your hat!’ It sailed through the air into his hands and we could see him celebrating from a block away. That crowd loves anything other than beads. It’s still the most fun parade every year.”
The humor, ingenuity, creativity, openmindedness, inclusion and diversity that are hallmarks of the Krewe of Highland are like little outlets making their way to a mighty 3-1/2 mile river, the parade itself, that keeps people coming back every year. “It’s popular for a bunch of reasons,” McCarty said. “It runs right through the neighborhood so people can have yard parties. It’s a big parade, too. It runs 3-1/2 miles through a cool, eclectic neighborhood. It is crowded but you can always find somewhere to park. And I think it helps that it is occurs during the daytime, so it’s usually warmer than the evening parades and it brings out more kids. And there just seem to be less shenanigans during daylight.”
“The Highland neighborhood is a lot of fun,” Drury said, “but you don’t have to live there to be a part of it. Highland is more of a state of mind. It’s a fun, artistic, eclectic community and if that is your personality and what you’re into you can be a member of The Krewe of Highland no matter where you live. It’s a state of mind.”
WANT TO GO?
The Krewe of Highland will host the Glory of Rome Bal Masque XX on Feb. 13 at the Randal T. Moore Center. Doors open at 7 p.m., with the presentation at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $40 per person and available at Marilynn’s Place or $45 at the door. Dress is Roman attire or formal wear. Costumes are encouraged and masks are required.