alk down any street in New Orleans and you’re likely to find strings of beads dangling from telephone lines, peeking from treetops or strewn across iron-wrought fences. While these colorful ornaments that decorate our streets are iconic for The Big Easy and Mardi Gras celebrations, in recent years a lot of New Orleanians are finding the tradition a little – to put it lightly – “excessive.”
That budding disapproval is shared by Brian Kern, ringmaster of the Krewe of BOO! – New Orleans’ official Halloween parade that got its start in 2008, rolled for three years, and took a short hiatus until Kern took over the group in 2013. After he saw front-loading trucks hauling the wasted necklaces from street gutters along parade routes, an idea struck Kern like a giant package of beads barreling towards the head: What if parade throws were local or Louisiana-made products, things that people actually want?
Kern calls his concept “not anti-China but pro-New Orleans.” He collaborates with local businesses who sponsor the parade and supply a number of eco-friendly, locally-made products. Parade attendees this year might catch Aunt Sally’s famous pralinettes, packets of coffee from PJ’s, Zydeco Sweet Potato Nutrition Bars, cups made of over 50% post-recycled plastic from Giacona Container Company, recycled toys and more. Recently added to this year’s list of throws are doubloons, coupons redeemable at local restaurants in the city. Crafty krewe members are also invited to make their own throws – literally, whatever they want; last year, members made magnets, voodoo pins and candy corn necklaces. Kern hopes that, as Krewe of BOO! grows in the coming years, he can hold workshops during the off-season for making more handmade throws.
As for the floats themselves: Kern’s goal is to have a fleet of classic Halloween characters – like Frankenstein and Dracula standing at a thundering 25 feet, or the Devil with wings that open and close – on double-decker, Mardi Gras-style floats. Krewe members, dressed in their own costumes, will have their make-up done by hired professionals. The whole shebang will also include retired running back for the Saints, Deuce McAllister, the Whistle Monster and Coach Sean Payton riding on these impeccably sculpted and wildly decorated vehicles, as well as 20-25 marching groups including the 610 Stompers and the Pussyfooters.
Hoping to double the Krewe of BOO! membership this year, Kern kept the dues down to $575 plus the cost of throws. Not a bad deal at all, especially since he’s also throwing in a catered lunch on the day of the parade, a 3-day general pass to Voodoo Fest and a VIP ticket to Spook Fest, the Krewe of BOO! after-party. The krewe will cap off at around 500 members.
The 2014 route is posted on the Krewe of BOO!’s website: at 6:30PM on October 30th the parade will kick off at Elysian Fields and Decatur, dip down N St. Peters and around the French Quarter, through the Warehouse District, and will end at Mardi Gras World for one hell of an after-party. It’s a solid, 2-hour long, family-friendly route along busy areas of the city – plenty of food and drink options to satisfy spectators as well. The Spook Fest after-party will feature live music, booze and, Kern assured me, “the Saints game will be on, of course.”
What really struck me about Kern’s project were the stories from closer to home, local businesses benefitting from the Krewe of BOO! The day after last year’s Halloween parade, Aunt Sally’s completely sold out of pralinettes; parade attendees apparently hadn’t had enough from the floats. Another great effect was the coffee-praline marriage between Aunt Sally’s and PJ’s: marketing representatives from both businesses, after introductions at krewe meetings, set up an exchange that resulted in a new coffee drink featuring Aunt Sally’s pralines.
The Krewe of BOO!’s commitment to local and Louisiana-based products is a fantastic reinforcement in our city, highlighting New Orleans culture and bolstering profitable relationships among small businesses. “Halloween is about trick-or-treating,” Kern said, “and I want to give people treats.”