Jefferson Parish’s Carnival schedule took a significant hit Wednesday as the Krewe of Thor, one of the oldest krewes on the Metairie route, and the parish’s newest group, the Guardians of Atlantis, both announced they will not roll in 2014.
The announcement comes at what Thor Captain Mac Cantrell described as a “very, very fragile” time for Jefferson’s Carnival celebrations, with krewes continuing to lose riders to larger, flashier parades in New Orleans that can offer better throws and celebrity royalty.
To halt that decline, Cantrell said, Thor’s leadership decided to take a year off to revamp the organization and plan for a comeback in 2015 with a new approach featuring original floats with a satirical bent, something that has not traditionally been a feature of processions on the Veterans Boulevard route.
“Jefferson’s never seen that,” said Cantrell, who founded Thor and also owns a float-building business. “I think it would be something new and something that might catch people’s attention.”
Thor rolled for the first time in 1974 and in its early years routinely fielded 600 members, Cantrell said.
The last decade has seen membership decline, though Cantrell said the krewe still had between 200 and 300 members, more than enough to meet the 200-rider minimum in Jefferson Parish’s regulations.
Still, as krewe officials were planning for the coming year, they realized they’d barely meet the requirement that parades have at least 10 floats.
The reformed krewe would have an air of exclusivity — a key to attracting new members, Cantrell said — and would be for men only. That’s a sharp departure for Thor, which was the first co-ed krewe in Jefferson when it was founded.
Cantrell said the krewe would retain the family-friendly atmosphere of most suburban parades but with a satirical edge. It could also have a new name when it makes its comeback, though that’s under wraps for now.
“Jefferson doesn’t really have that. They have a lot of rental parades that are renting floats from float builders,” Cantrell said, comparing the planned new organization with New Orleans’ Krewe d’Etat. “This could attract some people that are riding in New Orleans now.”
Guardians of Atlantis also hopes to be able to parade in 2015, but its leaders decided they would be unable to pull together a large enough membership to roll next year, Jefferson Parish Citizens Affairs Director Sean Burke said.
Jefferson has seen its Carnival parades struggle for membership and money in recent years, unable to compete with the lure of larger parades in New Orleans and the decline in revenue from the bingo games that traditionally helped subsidize the krewes.
“It’s just a sign of the times, unfortunately. New Orleans is thriving right now, and it’s becoming financially difficult for these krewes to survive with the increasing costs,” Burke said.
The lure of the city has claimed whole krewes from the West Bank in recent years, most notably the 80-year-old Krewe of Alla, which announced this summer it would move to the Uptown route in 2014. That followed last year’s decision by Cleopatra and Choctaw, two other West Bank krewes, to roll on the Uptown route this year.
Errol Laborde, editor of New Orleans Magazine and author of several books about Carnival, said the problem for Jefferson is potential krewe members must decide between large and prestigious parades on the Uptown route or the relatively small affairs in Jefferson.
The entirety of some Jefferson Parish parades would have fit on Endymion’s massive “Pontchartrain Beach” float last year, Laborde said.
The Parish Council has worked in recent years to prop up Jefferson’s Carnival, largely through stricter enforcement of parish ordinances laying out the numbers of riders, floats and bands that must be in each parade and establishing rules for how members must behave.
Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng said this stricter enforcement was necessary to increase the quality of the parades, which could bring in larger crowds and thus make the krewes more attractive to potential riders.
But Cantrell, whose krewe was cited for violations last year, said enforcement has gone too far and some riders have been turned off by the new rules.