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The Most Exciting Spot To Watch Mardi Gras Parades? Before They Begin

Jason Saul

Record-breaking crowds have flocked to New Orleans for this year's Mardi Gras celebration. It's an all-consuming holiday that wouldn't be quite complete without returning from a parade with a neck draped in beads. However, many people say it's the bands that march in the parades that they enjoy most.

Scores of school kids in each band train all year to march in the parades, in front of monstrous floats pitching beads to tens of thousands of screaming Carnival revelers. Krewes are required by law to maintain a minimum number of bands in each parade — though some parades, especially the "super-krewes", parade with many more.

Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
School bands get their final practice in, stay warmed up, and battle one-another with their best songs.

Carnival parades in Uptown New Orleans traditionally stage on the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue (though many parades now begin on Tchoupitoulas and Jefferson). It's here that tuba players and cheerleaders, drum majors and flag carriers, disgorge from idling school buses and prepare for the performance ahead.

Bands spill down the street and fill the Rouses Supermarket parking lot, where the kids warm up, tune up, and perhaps mend a few injuries — some school bands march in five, or more, parades each Carnival season.

The Roots of Music, practicing before the Bacchus parade:

Perhaps most excitingly, the bands will "battle" one-another with their best songs as they wait their turn to enter the parade lineup. In New Orleans being a member of a school band, and especially a drum major, is a point of pride — often more so than becoming the football quarterback, or other traditional high school status attainments.

Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
A panorama of just a portion of the bands preparing to march in the 2014 Bacchus parade. Click to enlarge the photo.
Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
A drum major stretches out before the parade begins. In New Orleans students compete to lead their school bands.

The area is also a rare opportunity to see the bands perform as a whole, rather than spread out along the parade route.

Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
The Tchoupitoulas staging area is a rare opportunity to see the bands perform together, rather than spread out along the parade route.
Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
Bacchus krewe officers and New Orleans police slot the different elements of the parade together on Tchoupitoulas, and direct them one by one onto Napoleon Avenue.
Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
The St. Augustine Marching 100 gets started.

Warren Easton gets going:

Credit Jason Saul / WWNO
As the Uptown parade route becomes ever-more crowded, more people are discovering the staging area.

Jason Saul served as WWNO's Director of Digital Services. In 2017 he took a position at BirdNote, in Seattle.