Southern Decadence is back for its 46th, and likely its largest ever, year. The massive event has been happening every Labor Day weekend in New Orleans since 1972, and has grown every year. It's a weekend full of parades, live concerts, and parties that celebrate the substantial and vibrant LGBT community in New Orleans.
Decadence started as a going-away party for Michael Evers, thrown by a small group of friends who all lived together in a home they named "Belle Reve" (a reference to Blanche Dubois's plantation in A Streetcar Named Desire). The party was also a playful jab at a new Belle Reve tenant who complained about the New Orleans heat. The original invitation required that attendants dress up as a decadent Southern character.
The following year the group decided to throw the party again, but this time with an official parade. Every year, the tradition repeated and the participants grew, and in 1974, the first grand marshal, Frederick Wright, was named. It was not until 1981 that Southern Decadence became a primarily gay event. The starting point of the parade was set at The Golden Lantern Bar, and grand marshals began to choose their own successors.
This modest gathering of friends has turned into one of the biggest LGBT events in the world. Last year, there were over 200,000 visitors, which produced over $200 million in revenue for the city. According to Chuck Robinson, owner of Napoleon's Itch on the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann Streets, this year is projected to see close to 215,000 attendants.
The festivities kick off on Thursday, August 31, and run through Monday, September 4. Typically, the first official event is on that Friday with the Nights of Decadence Parade, run by Toby Lafort. Unfortunately, this year's Friday night parade was canceled due to the construction on Bourbon Street. However, there will still be the Grand Marshal's Walking Parade on Sunday, September 3 beginning at 2 p.m. at The Golden Lantern bar at 1239 Royal St., and ending at 3 p.m. near Bourbon and Dumaine Streets. A map for the walking route can be found at southerndecadence.net.
There are three honorary grand marshals for the parade: Persana Shoulders, Danny Starnes (aka Princess Stephaney), and Coca Mesa. Every year, a theme is chosen to inspire the costume choices, and this year it is "Let Them Eat Cake: Electrified." So, we can expect these grand marshals to wear decadent, bright, and attention-grabbing looks.
Taking place on Saturday, September 2 will be the "Bourbon Street Extravaganza" at 6 p.m. on the 700 block of Bourbon Street, right in front of Napoleon's Itch. The free concert is now in its 13th year, and organizer Chuck Robinson predicts that this will be its biggest yet. Performers include Deborah Cox, who is in the middle of a touring performance in the musical The Bodyguard. Also performing will be Jeanie Tracey, an R&B legend; Zoe Badwi, a pop star from Australia; and Rowetta, a pop singer from London.
Apart from these free, more family-friendly events, there are various private events and parties happening at gay bars across the city. This includes the welcome party at The Bourbon Pub and Parade on Thursday, August 31; wrestling at the Allways Lounge on Friday, September 1; Horse Meat Disco, a big dance party, at Ace Hotel on Saturday, September 2; a free block party at Phoenix Bar Friday through Sunday; and much more.
Despite traditionally being thought of as an exclusively LGBT event, Southern Decadence is a joyous New Orleans celebration that should have something for everybody. Any other information regarding lodging, restaurants, parade routes, and parties can be found on southerndecadence.net.