[Image by Kevin Credo]

Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Walking Club Rounds Out Another Year of Carnival

11:00 February 14, 2024
By: Kevin Credo

"Luv Ya Baby"

On the morning of Fat Tuesday, the big day's preparations quietly mix with recovery from the preceding past five weeks of Carnival. The chilly, overcast daylight began filtering between the leaves and stucco of the New Orleans Garden District. Across the city, last night's revelers sleep off Orpheus and its musical ode to the Pythagorean Music of the Spheres.

Outside of Commander's Palace, the tune-up started for one of Mardi Gras Day's greatest traditions—the Half-Fast Walking Club. Founded by New Orleans jazz legend Pete Fountain, the Half-Fast Walking Club has been parading through Mardi Gras morning since the 1960s. Each year, the group takes its theme and uniform inspiration from Pete Fountain and the musical traditions of New Orleans. This year, with Fat Tuesday occurring immediately prior to Valentine's Day, the group donned red blazers for the theme "Luv Ya' Baby," reflecting one of Pete's iconic catchphrases, as well as the late legend's many romantic standards.

The Walk

At just after 7 a.m., the red blazers set out. Making their way from the Garden District to Downtown, the procession consisted of banners celebrating Pete Fountain and the club, a wrought-iron float with a full jazz band, and two red tides of walking suits between them. The cadence of its walkers may be casual, but the club's throws and art direction for the Half-Fast Walking Club are organized and coordinated, with large quantities of bronze and pearl-toned beads dotting the Uptown leg of the route. As the club made its half-fast journey from Uptown to Downtown, City Councilman Eugene Green addressed the club as it processed near Gallier Hall. Captain Benny Harrell and the club were honored to be hailed by Green as a staple of Carnival, who proclaimed that Mardi Gras wouldn't be the same without them.

After a brief pit stop at Mike Serio's Po-Boys, the French Quarter leg of the walk saw an uptick in more elaborate signature throws, ranging from special Pete Fountain-medallioned beads and glass and metal cloisonne doubloons delivered by-hand in velvet boxes as the group made its way to Bourbon Street. Dotting the route were gold-suited members of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club awaiting the rolling of Zulu that day. That parade is a legendary hallmark of New Orleans Mardi Gras, extending back for over a century to the days of Buddy Bolden, one of the earliest jazz musicians whose connection to early jazz and Zulu was immortalized by Duke Ellington in his 1957 folk-operatic history of jazz, A Drum is a Woman. Gold and red blazers stopped to shake hands and celebrated the day together, as commendable a meeting as any royal Mardi Gras court could ever hope to imitate.

The Conclusion

As the club made its final leg of its journey through Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, the final celebrations paused to adorn beads to Pete Fountain's statue in the Musical Legends Park; Pete's statue sharing the beads with likenesses of Fats Domino and Al Hirt. Mingling together with the Baby Doll Ladies and the Krewe of the Rolling Elvi, Pete Fountain's reached its musical destination of the Hotel Monteleone in the early afternoon, with members treated to a private upstairs luncheon of bread pudding and red beans and rice.

One member recounted his membership as the result of an offhand encounter and walk with the Club in 2019, while Tulane Law professor Steven Plotkin celebrated 64 years of service as the oldest continuous link to Pete's original gang. Captain Harrell had a chance to catch up, sharing his pleasure of another year well-done and the unique opportunity to celebrate Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day in one fell swoop. The theming paid tribute to several of Fountain's romantic covers and standards, including "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You," "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," "Till We Meet Again," and more—classics that live on just as clearly in the club's jazz performance as they do in any digital playlist for the Spotify generation.

Though they've helped usher in the end of the Mardi Gras season, the Half-Fast Walking Club has set the stage for Valentine's Day and beyond.

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