The spirit of Mardi Gras will roll on in 2021, propelled by some of New Orleans' best-loved celebrities and the wonders of technology.
A three-night, 4½-hour online spectacular called "Mardi Gras For All Y'All " will bring New Orleans' signature celebration to the world. "Mardi Gras for All Y’all" is presented by NOLA.com and Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World.
Shown on the NOLA.com and theadvocate.com news websites, YouTube and Facebook Live, "Mardi Gras For All Y'All" will bring viewers close to the sights and sounds of Carnival, with celebrity interviews, musical performances and Carnival features narrating the history of the celebration and New Orleans' unique culture.
John Georges, owner of NOLA.com, and Barry Kern, CEO of Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, joined forces to create the event. "We wanted to produce a free virtual event to showcase New Orleans and Louisiana for those who love Mardi Gras around the globe," Georges said.
Kern sees the production as an opportunity to tell the story of Mardi Gras accurately to locals as well as the wider world. "I want to give people the understanding of what Mardi Gras really is," he said. "It's an incredible cultural event; for New Orleanians it's a family event, where generations of families come together. It's a celebration that's owned by all of us.
"And it's super important that people understand the economic benefit of not only Mardi Gras but all these things we do in our city ... Jazz Fest and other events. They mean business for tens of thousands of families in our community."
The program, which is scheduled to be shown in three segments on Feb. 12, 13 and 14, provides an insider’s tour led by celebrities such as NBC "Today" show co-anchor Hoda Kotb, author Walter Isaacson, musician Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, actor Bryan Batt, political guru James Carville and New Orleans Saints legend Archie Manning. They will give viewers an introduction to the many moving parts that make Mardi Gras the inclusive experience it is.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people attend the "greatest free show on earth" in person and online via NOLA.com. With 92 million unique viewers annually, NOLA.com is distinctly positioned to broadcast the virtual Mardi Gras experience to a vast audience, touching every country on earth, Georges said.
And, the show will accurately project the diversity of the community, which makes Mardi Gras such a vibrant event, he said.
Viewers will visit with the renowned 149-year-old parading group Rex, which crowns the king of Carnival; the wickedly satirical all-female Krewe of Muses and the famed Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. They will meet the Krewe of Armeinius, New Orleans’ largest gay Carnival organization.
Viewers will be beguiled by the MuffALottas, a dance troupe in the guise of saucy diner waitresses. They will be good-naturedly menaced by the Northside Skull and Bones Gang, a group of rowdy skeletons. And they will be mystified by the indefinable allure of the 610 Stompers, who call themselves “ordinary men with extraordinary moves.”
It wouldn’t be a proper tour of New Orleans without music, of course, and "Mardi Gras For All Y'All" viewers will be welcome to sing along with Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, groove to the ever-funky George Porter Jr. and Leo Nocentelli and wave a handkerchief along with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. With chef extraordinaire Emeril Lagasse in the house, viewers can also count on some Creole, Cajun and cross-cultural cooking in the mix.
Featuring 90 individual segments, including 51 features and 20 performances, "Mardi Gras For All Y'All" promises to be a fast-paced online experience for a global audience. New Orleans-based videographers, writers and artists were hired to create an authentic vibe. The broadcast will be repeated on Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras, which is Feb. 16 this year.
The marathon video was produced as a collaboration of New Orleans stakeholders including the Louisiana Office of Tourism, the New Orleans & Co. tourism bureau, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Tulane University, Crystal Hot Sauce, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the National World War II Museum, Mardi Gras World and The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate.
The project has support across the community, including from Mardi Gras parade captains, state and local tourism officials and the office of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
“We have said for months that while Mardi Gras won't be canceled, it will be different," Cantrell said. "That also means that Mardi Gras can be creative, innovative and interactive. That's why we're excited to see new and fun alternatives to safely celebrate the Carnival season, and that includes the NOLA.com and Mardi Gras World collaboration on 'Mardi Gras For All Y'All .' We hope this will serve as a reminder of why this season is so special to us — and the world."
"The spirit of Louisiana and Mardi Gras is alive and well in 2021," said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who heads up the state's tourism efforts. "Even with the current challenges brought on by the pandemic, we are excited to bring a virtual Mardi Gras celebration to the world. We wish we were all meeting in person, but I promise these upcoming virtual events showcasing our music, culture and love of life is just what we all need to jump start this new year."
The program will explore the history and culture of Mardi Gras through the eyes of those who know it best, including Stephen Hales, a former Rex and krewe historian; Clarence Becnel, Zulu historian; Arthur Hardy, author and publisher of the Mardi Gras Guide; and Henri Schindler, Carnival historian, author and art director.
“Mardi Gras is the ultimate celebration of life and culture, and is critical economically to a city that derives 43% of its operating budget from tourism,” said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of New Orleans & Co. “On behalf of the 100,000 New Orleanians whose livelihoods come from the cultural economy, we are pleased to show the world through NOLA.com that our sacred Carnival tradition is moving forward - safely - even in the midst of a pandemic.”
“The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is pleased to support NOLA.com in keeping the spirit of Mardi Gras virtually alive for the world over in these challenging times,” wrote Michael Sawaya, convention center president. “The Convention Center is indelibly linked to Mardi Gras, annually hosting numerous activities from the very smallest tableaux to super krewes, balls and parades. The Convention Center also depends on this uniquely New Orleans celebration to attract thousands of visitors who help fuel our economy, and looks forward doing what we do best - hosting live events.”