Scores of the formally clad stand from raised seating to celebrate the presentation of Mardi Gras royalty. An elaborately costumed procession walks forth from the curtain to the fanfare of a live-band, greeting and bowing before each section of revelers.
This past Saturday, the Uptown Krewe of Thoth celebrated its annual Bal-Masque at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner. The black-tie event is a celebration of one of Carnival's largest parading krewes, a staple of the city's Mardi Gras almost yearly since its founding in 1947. Despite coming out of essentially a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and facing a temporary route change from its traditional path alongside New Orleans' various institutions of healthcare, the reveling spirit of the krewe was out in full force for a year like none other. The chance to finally return to the festivities was a celebrated affair for its riders, ringing home the spirit of the year's theme: "A Gift for You."
The evening began with the national anthem and a performance by the Chalmette High marching band. Soon after, the Bal-Masque began its elaborate presentation, in which various members of the krewe's costumed royal court enter onto the event floor and receive honor for their prominence in the year's parade. This was an impressively elaborate affair; it was pre-rehearsed and tactfully coordinated to the announcer's speeches and a live ensemble band. The gestures, walking paths, and pageantry of the captains and court were very consciously choreographed to highlight each member's unique time in the spotlight (and I do mean a literal spotlight; the manned lighting cues were on-point). Each presentation was bookended with an elaboration on the theme of gift giving, and the ceremonies culminated in the grand entrance and royal procession of Queen and King Thoth.
Following the main ceremonies, the evening burst forth into a massive celebration spanning the entirety of the Pontchartrain Center. Now branching forth into multiple different areas, the musical reigns were passed to a variety of simultaneous acts. On the upper balcony played local band 5 eaux 4. The Yat Pac entertained the grand lobby. The Wiseguys covered the west wing of the building, whereas the east wing was host to The Molly Ringwalds and The Mixed Nuts. Several full-service buffets served the evening with helpings such as andouille gumbo and king cake bread pudding. Having had the chance to talk with several of the krewe's members, there was a strong enthusiasm to see the return of parading this year. The krewe was optimistic for the restoration of its traditional route for next year, but the energy was high to make the most for a fully-equipped parade. A one-of-a-kind route for a one-of-a-kind year.
Given the theme of gift giving, as well as the Krewe's mythological namesake, I can't help but recall a story from antiquity. In the dialogues of Plato, Socrates tells a tale where the god Thoth presents the invention of writing as a gift to the Egyptian pharaoh. The gift is meant to be an aid to memory, but the pharaoh immediately warns of a distinction between written reminders and true living memory. It is fitting to consider that the spectacle and pageantry of Carnival is not merely a ceremonious presentation for tradition's sake, but rather an active celebration of community. The Krewe of Thoth's annual Bal-Masque has primed the group for another great parade this year, and the yearly celebration is a gift ready to be given once again.
The Krewe of Thoth parades on Sunday, February 27 beginning at noon and following the Krewes of Okeanos and Mid-City. For more information on this year's route, see the Krewe of Thoth's page on Mardi Gras New Orleans.