A floppy-eared pooch wearing a red crustacean costume rides in a wagon decorated like a shrimp boat, followed by another “boat” wagon occupied by a pug in a sailor hat.
Behind them, on a leash, strolls a white maltese in a Wonder Woman costume alongside canines in fluffy purple, green and gold tutus.
The dog-centered Krewe of Barkus is one of 50 walking Carnival clubs in New Orleans that parade throughout the Mardi Gras season, ranging from satirical and political to the cute and risque.
It’s the most walking clubs in the city’s long Carnival history, making the weekslong celebration more colorful and diverse than ever, says Mardi Gras historian Arthur Hardy, who publishes an annual guide with historical facts about Carnival, as well as parade schedules and route maps.
“It’s just amazing how many different ways there are to express yourself at Mardi Gras,” Hardy said. And the walking clubs have added “a new level of inclusion and diversity and participation that we have not seen before.”
Among the favorite walking parades drawing thousands of spectators yearly are the Star Wars-themed Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, the satirical and sometimes downright raunchy adult-themed Krewe du Vieux, and Barkus.
While some groups put on choreographed dances or march between floats and bands in the larger parades, others take center stage in the French Quarter, strolling along the narrow streets of the historic neighborhood where large floats aren’t permitted.
Krewe of Cork members donning grape and wine-themed costumes sipped from goblets as they handed out beads with corks and grapevine emblems.
The “krewe,” the New Orleans name for a Carnival club, included women dressed in nude bodysuits covered with clear balls made to look like champagne bubbles.
Thousands of spectators turned out for the parade, watching from the sidewalks of the city’s famed Bourbon Street, where topless women held signs advertising colorful “nipple glitter” for revelers wanting to decorate their breasts.
Naughty or not, it’s all in good fun, and most parades are family-friendly, Hardy said.
“The best thing I like about it is the freedom of expression and the creativity,” said New Orleans native Cortney Sessum, donning a platinum blond wig as she took in the sights of Barkus. “I love seeing the costume ideas.”
Some walking clubs have already paraded and are done for the season, while others will parade more than once. And there’s still plenty to see between now and Fat Tuesday on March 5.
The Krewe of Red Beans, where members use red beans in place of beads to create elaborate suits and costumes, will parade on “Lundi Gras,” the Monday before Mardi Gras, in a nod to the city’s culinary tradition of eating red beans and rice on Mondays.
Among the groups parading on Fat Tuesday is Pete Fountain’s Half Fast Marching Club, which walks ahead of the Zulu and Rex float parades, as well as the masked revelers of the Society of St. Anne and several Mardi Gras Indian tribes donning elaborately beaded costumes and tall feathered headdresses.
“There’s something for everyone,” Hardy said. “I tell people, if you can’t have a good time at Mardi Gras, you better check your pulse. Something’s wrong with you, baby.”