When people think of Mardi Gras in the United States, the wild festivities in New Orleans probably comes to their minds. Making your Mardi Gras holiday in Shreveport,the northwest part of Louisiana, does have its advantages. This is especially the case if you are looking for a less crowded, in your face experience, with plenty of police presence to prevent full scale acts of raunchiness that take place in New Orleans. Shreveport is the only city in Louisiana that designates an alcohol-free zone on the parade route. For budget travelers, there are better rates on hotels and other expenses compared to New Orleans. It is reported that some 400,000 people enjoy the Mardi Gras festivities here each year.
Besides Mardi Gras, the Shreveport area offers some worthy attractions and fine dining, with these latter two aspects discussed in more detail in my second article on this area, which includes Bossier City (pronounced Bo-Zhure). The city of Bossier is across the Red River, generally deemed part of the “Shreveport area”. As a matter of fact, only New Orleans gets more tourist interest in the state than this dual city entity.
Introducing The Shreveport-Bossier City Area and Mardi Gras
Shreveport was founded at the meeting point of the Red River and the Texas Trail in 1836 by The Shreve Town Company, headed by Captain Henry Miller Shreve, origin of the town’s name. Shortly after, the Cane’s Landing Trading Post sprang up across the river, eventually named Bossier City in 1907. After the surrender of General Lee in April 1865 to U.S. Grant in the Civil War, Shreveport was the Confederate capital while the Civil War raged on westward.
Our nation’s defense has more than 80 per cent of its B-52 bombers based here. The National Rose Garden, the largest rose garden in the world, is located in Shreveport. The Shreveport area has been capturing the interest of movie makers, with several films for both big screen and television already having been shot in the last year, including The Guardian and Mr. Brooks, both starring Kevin Costner, and Premonition with Sandra Bullock. Five major hotel riverside casinos are in this area, too.
The term Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French. The festivities begin 12 days after Christmas, or January 6, when many balls take place, along with a few minor parades leading up to the last couple of weekends before Fat Tuesday, when things really get hopping. This year, Fat Tuesday falls on February 20, a day before the Christians' Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, or a time to be more restrained. Catholics brought the Mardi Gras to France’s Louisiana Province during the late 1600’s. North America’s first Mardi Gras took place 60 miles downriver from New Orleans. Even though Shreveport held Mardi Gras parades as early as 1867, the festivities have only been in revival since 1989, after 50-plus years of basic idleness.
The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, gold and green, which stand for justice, power and faith. These designations came about by accident. In 1872, New Orleans’ carnival organization, The Krewe of Rex, needed a costume, so they borrowed one from a local theatre company, that happened to give them one from Shakespeare’s Henry III bearing the above colors. Those colors obviously caught on for Mardi Gras.
In Shreveport, I was part of two major Mardi Gras parades the weekend before Fat Tuesday, sponsored by two area Krewes, carnival organizations that sponsor Mardi Gras parades. Krewes are often actively involved in community improvement when they aren’t creating merriment during Mardi Gras season. Krewes have interesting designations like The Krewe of Centaur (Shreveport’s largest Krewe) and the Krewe of Apollo. Krewe members can spend between $500.00 to $1,500.00 to be on the float to throw out the beaded necklaces, stuffed toys, cups and frisbees to screaming parade goers.
No Mardi Gras is Complete without King Cakes
It’s a Mardi Gras tradition to hold tailgating and tent parties before the parade begins, when parade goers bring all sorts of food and drink. One essential food is the King Cake. In Shreveport, Julie Anne’s Bakery prepares 10,000 cakes during Mardi Gras season, shipping out roughly 35 per cent of them around the world.
King Cakes honor the Three Kings, each King Cake contains a little baby inside. The person whose piece contains the baby is supposed to have good luck and buy next year’s King Cake. Julie Anne’s King Cakes are delicious! Their bakers make them by hand using a sweet dough and butter cream icing. The colors of Mardi Gras top the cakes via the use of colored sugars. Small King Cakes range from $16.00 (8-10 servings) to $44.00 (30-35 servings).
On Saturday afternoon, I was a spectator of the Krewe of Gemini Parade which took place on the Shreveport side of the Red River. Several floats were featured. They had a wide range of decorations, while blasting out primarily ’70’s rock and disco music. Even the local police and fire departments threw beaded necklaces. Although anyone who stands on the parade route is bound to get lots of necklaces and other goodies, it’s incredible how badly some people really want them, as if it’s a major competition.
The Shreveport Police had to restrain those people trying to get to the floats. The vast majority of folks, though, behaved. I got my share of beads and cups by not standing in one place. Instead, I ran for about 30 yards one way and then back behind the throng of people, nabbing the longer throws. I didn’t want to take beads away from the children who were lined on the curb’s edge.
On Sunday afternoon, I was on the other side of the parade experience. The middle class and very historic neighborhood of Highland has a Krewe who sponsors a parade that is frequented by the residents, who line several miles to get the “throws”. The Krewe of Spam appeared at this parade. This Krewe not only threw beaded necklaces, but tossed out packaged ballpark style hot dogs and bananas to parade watchers! Obviously, cans of spam would’ve been too hazardous to throw to the crowds. People do get hit sometimes.
I prepared for bead throwing by taking them out of the box, putting them on my knees and arms, trying not to get them tangled. Our float got onto the parade, I began throwing the necklaces. Most of my throws were caught, others were picked up. At first, it was a little nerve racking as our float had to pause with the other floats.
“Hey Mister, throw me some beads!” (This plea is even shouted to women throwers)
“Hey, I want this fancy one with the medallion. Let me have this one!”
As some people came closer to me, they kept on begging for the beaded necklaces, acting as if they were getting ready to grab them from me. I thought I was going to be attacked by this small, aggressive group. Strands of beads were engulfing my arms and legs, making me virtually defenseless in my sitting position.
“Please move out of the way, back to the curb”, said the float walker, coming next to where I was seated in the nick of time! She politely but firmly directed them back toward the curb to keep me from being overwhelmed.
I was safe once again. I could throw the beaded necklaces from the float at my own pace, to whomever I wished. Of course, no matter which major Mardi Gras you go to, there will always be those people who’ll be a bit greedy.
The only major festivity for Fat Tuesday itself in Shreveport is when royalty from the Krewes of Centaur and Gemini hold a closing ceremony at the Texas Street Bridge, which links the cities of Shreveport and Bossier City.
I’ll never forget my first Mardi Gras experience. New Orleans seems too crowded and wild for my taste from what I’ve heard from other people and have seen on “COPS: Mardi Gras” episodes. The city of Shreveport doesn’t have to act too wild and crazy in order to put on an incredible Mardi Gras celebration!
Roy’s Travel Tips
The Ark-La-Tex Mardi Gras Museum is a wonderful place to learn about Mardi Gras. Its exhibits contain the second largest collection of Mardi Gras artifacts in the world, including crowns, throws, as well as parade and ball costumes.
Those TSA Regulations don’t necessarily have to keep you from enjoying your favorite refreshments. Here’s what I do for tea. I put an empty water bottle in my backpack and a bottle of powdered tea. Both go through security without any problems. I go to the water fountain located in the concourse, fill it with water, put in the mix, shake it up and there's my refreshment of choice! This saves me from being ripped off by the airport snack bars!
Major airlines American, Continental and Northwest fly to Shreveport Regional Airport (SHV).
Roy A. Barnes writes from the windy plains of southeastern Wyoming. He is a frequent contributor to Bootsnall.com. He has even had poetry and prose published at Swimming Kangaroo, Poesia, The First Line, Skatefic.com, Skive Magazine and The Goblin Reader.