The pandemic could have decimated Carnival season, but Baton Rouge is finding safe ways to stay festive

Parties Start Here, the longtime Mardi Gras supply store off Perkins Road, usually orders large numbers of beads and other throws for float riders each season. This year, owner Nelson Maddox decreased his orders in case the threat of COVID-19 would make it unsafe to parade. Now, he feels that decision made him one the luckier shop owners.

“Most everyone in this industry did what I did and bought very light,” he says, “because everybody knew there was a big chance that this would happen. … I’ve been in business for over 30 years, and this is catastrophic.”

The good news, though, is that Maddox is still seeing some customers coming in to buy Carnival-themed items. When he asks why they’re still buying, their answer is simple: They just love Mardi Gras.

“People are still going to celebrate Mardi Gras,” he says. “I just don’t know how it’ll be done.”

Beads on display at Parties Start Here, which supplies the bulk of the beads and throws to local parading krewes. Photo by Collin Richie.

The cancellation of nearly every Mardi Gras parade in the Baton Rouge area this year has meant a financial blow to places like Parties Start Here and local bakeries, as well. It’s also been a huge bummer for the dance troupes and musicians who usually perform on the parade routes.

But those Parties Start Here shoppers aren’t the only ones rethinking the season. Everyone, it seems, is still trying to celebrate in whatever way they can.

Jessica Newsom, founder and captain of the all-female dancing krewe Baton Rouge BeignYAYS, says they plan to participate in Mid City Gras’ reimagined “reverse parade” (read more about that at right).

Newsom and the BeignYAYS plan to perform in the front yard of a home on Capital Heights Avenue, between Concordia and St. Landry streets, during the event.

The all-female dancing krewe Baton Rouge BeignYAYS participating in the Krewe of Artemis parade in 2020. File photo.

The Florida Street Blowhards, a local jazz band whose musicians usually walk in area parades, hopes to still bring its vibrant music to the community.

“We’re trying to set up some drive-by locations where we can come and play one or two songs on a float,” band leader Sam Irwin says.

Irwin says the band hopes to visit individual homes for small Mardi Gras parties and gatherings, and even some commercial establishments this festival season.

And for those of us who plan on marking the Carnival season at home, local bakeries aren’t slowing down.

Ambrosia Bakery is operating in much the way it has in past years, bringing in additional staff to help bake its Zulu king cakes and other favorites.

“My game plan is to do what we’ve always done,” co-owner Felix Sherman says. “I feel like people will still want their king cakes.”

Sherman says they are encouraging customers to keep adhering to social distancing guidelines and wearing masks during a time when there’s usually an influx of customers picking up king cake orders.

“So many people have suffered from the virus, and we want them to be back in the usual spirit,” he says. “We’re just taking it a day at a time, like everyone else.”

And while celebrations this year are surely going to be different, the locals we talked to for this story all say they are ready to bring Mardi Gras back bigger and better once the pandemic is over.

“When this is back to normal,” Newsom says, “we’re going to do as many parades, if not more, than we usually do.”

Celebratory alternatives

How to still celebrate Mardi Gras without the parades and parties

Mid City Gras’ reverse parade

The only Baton Rouge parade to offer up a modified celebration is Mid City Gras. Its reverse parade will feature dozens of participating homes and businesses in the Mid City area decorated to match this year’s theme, “MASKparade.” Locals can use an online map and drive by to see the decorations, performers and more on Sunday, Feb. 7, 1-4 p.m. midcitygras.org


Mystic Krewe of Mutts’ virtual parade

Always a crowd pleaser, Capital Area Animal Welfare Society’s annual parade of pets downtown was canceled. But animal lovers submitted images and videos of their dogs, cats, birds and more to be featured in a virtual parade with the theme of “There’s No Place Like Home.” The video compilation will be shown on CAAWS’s YouTube channel on Feb. 13. caaws.org


Mardi Gras for All Y’all

Hoda Kotb of the Today show hosts a three-night streaming event celebrating New Orleans Mardi Gras and featuring performances, interviews and more revelry available on NOLA.com and The Advocate’s websites and social media. It begins Friday, Feb. 12.


Throw Me Something Bacchus!

The Bacchus krewe of New Orleans created its own game app where participants can “catch” virtual throws from more than 1,600 krewe members. Some of the throws will be redeemable for real-life prizes. Download the “Throw Me Something Bacchus!” game from the app store.


Show us how you celebrate

Send pictures of your at-home Mardi Gras celebrations to [email protected], or tag us on Instagram. You just might see your images appear on our social media pages throughout Mardi Gras season.

This article was originally published in the February 2021 issue of 225 magazine.