Carnival 2014 brings more changes for suburban krewes

Published: Jan. 9, 2014 at 3:12 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 16, 2014 at 3:27 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS - Carnival is all about tradition.

These days, however, many krewes are learning that in order to survive, change is necessary.

"We've seen the writing on the wall for years," said Scott Brannon, a board member with the Krewe of Choctaw.

Brannon said in recent years, Choctaw's west bank parade began fizzling out.

"The routes got smaller. The crowds got smaller. People started to transition to the east bank a little bit more," he said. "We were losing members. Members were dropping."

Last year, Choctaw jumped across the river and rolled down St. Charles Avenue for the first time. This Carnival season, the Algiers-based Krewe of Alla is making the move, too.

"We were hearing from a lot of riders who were leaving the west bank to go into other east bank parades," said Alla President Frank Borne Jr.

Mardi Gras historian Errol Laborde said a trend is well under way.

"I think that's part of what's going on throughout the area with the suburban Mardi Gras - that the suburban Mardi Gras, in terms of the parades, are really in decline," Laborde said.

Wednesday, news surfaced that Mandeville's Krewe of Orpheus won't roll for a second straight year and Laborde pointed out that Metairie's Krewe of Thor and Guardians of Atlantis have also put the brakes on parading this Carnival season.

It's all about competition, Laborde said.

With many krewes requiring substantial yearly dues, members simply want the best experience possible for the money.

"You gotta sell the whole package, and the whole package is, where are you going to be riding, what the environment is," Laborde said. "The crowds are getting bigger on St. Charles Avenue and that's where the action is, and that's where people want to be."

For both Choctaw and Alla, hopes are high that the Uptown move will not only save their organizations, but will lead to major growth.

"It's been a good decision," Borne said. "We've had a lot of excitement, a lot of interest, and we really think that we could end up with a decent 300-rider parade this year."

Brannon said Choctaw's ride down St. Charles last year was an unforgettable experience.

"The open arms that we walked into when we got over there were incredible," he said. "Our riders will not come back to the west bank. We love the west bank. We've got a ton of members who are west bank members. They love the east bank route."

Despite the changes, however, there are still plenty of parade options outside the city for Carnival 2014.