As a veteran of 25 New Orleans Mardi Gras I was appalled and disgusted by the cheap and poorly run event I saw here last Saturday.
In New Orleans corporate sponsorship of a parade or float is not allowed. This parade was a gross commercial for everything.
It was horrible. What a joke!
The crowd was young and dumb and the area I was was a river of urine because there was nowhere near enough toilets. Disgusting.
The only police I saw were inept and more worried about getting their shoes dirty with urine than policing the event.
The bands were horrible (a Prince cover band? Who is booking this schlock?)
Mardi Gras Inc. is a total failure and every business owner hates them and thinks they are a joke.
This is classic St. Louis. Take a great idea, #####ize and constrict it in to an utter failure.
I guess my only defense is that the Soulard Mardi Gras isn't a two-hundred year old tradition as it is in New Orleans. Plus, tourism isn't as integral and such an obvious component of the St. Louis economy as it is in New Orleans. Thus, many residents of Soulard offer a cold reception to the revelers. Soulard is much more of a residential neighborhood in character (even though the smaller, denser French Quarter is home to about 4,000 residents; Soulard, about 3,100 as of 2000). And it seems to me that the St. Louis Mardi Gras has been outsourced to Mardi Gras, Inc. and is no longer a true neighborhood event anyway.
I have to strongly agree with the corporate ownership criticism. If the event can't make money without corporate sponsorship, then there is a disease of civic malaise in St. Louis--or simply no will to carry on the Mardi Gras tradition.
St. Louis is a French and Spanish Creole-founded city like New Orleans. Soulard's pint-sized square blocks and Creole architecture link it physically and culturally to New Orleans. I've always been proud to claim that St. Louis has reclaimed its New Orleans heritage with this large event, inflating the celebration to the second largest in the country after N.O. itself.
But Mardi Gras as it is should likely be retooled. It should be stripped of all corporate sponsorship and made into a more authentic event. I would love to see St. Louisans get into the culture of Mardi Gras as much as New Orleans--that is, having residents from across the metro planning floats, organizing balls, designing costumes, plotting new krewes and parades almost as soon as Ash Wednesday hits. If that's not possible, then maybe the event could just fizzle. Of course, it is a big economic boom to St. Louis. I just wish we could step it up and handle it without the help of Lumiere Place and Beggin' Strips.
Here's to hoping the rumored renegade non-corporate Mardi Gras does start up and does provide something of an alternative to a bloated block party with beads.
[Note of caution: living in New Orleans makes you something of a Mardi Gras snob, as evidenced by the comments of the STL Today.com commenter at the beginning of the post].
EDIT: Must have missed this! The unofficial Mardi Gras, complete with non-corporate parade, will roll through Carondelet tonight! How fitting--St. Louis's other prominent French/Spanish Creole neighborhood.