Months ago, New Orleans city officials announced that the 2021 Carnival Season would be different. They weren’t kidding.
By the time Twelfth Night arrived, the community had adjusted to the fact there would be no parades this year. Yet many were saddened by the absence of so many traditional features that herald the arrival of Carnival—King Cake parties, Joan of Arc riding horseback through the Quarter, the Rue Royale Revelers party and other Twelfth Night celebrations.
Although resigned to the fact of a very different Carnival, the city tapped its creative resilience and came up with alternatives like the Krewe of House Floats and Floats in the Oaks at City Park. And while those imaginative alternatives have been well-received, many still mourned the loss of the traditional rituals of the season. This was especially true for the gay krewes. 2021 is the first year since 1958 that there will be no gay balls. As none of the gay krewes parade, their respective Bal Masques have, in many respects, always been the highlight of their members’ Carnival celebrations.
But not this year. The pandemic has certainly affected fundraising and recruiting efforts for the krewes. A typical gay krewe’s Bal Masque costs tens of thousands of dollars to produce. That money comes from fundraising efforts throughout the year as well as membership dues. In the last year, however, there has, understandably, been little fundraising or recruitment. In a sense, Mardi Gras 2021 will be a return to an earlier time, an era when Mardi Gras weekend was nowhere near the multi-day extravaganza it has become. In those years it was all about Mardi Gras day.
In the Quarter, Dixie’s Bar of Music at the corner of Bourbon and St. Peter Streets was ground zero for the LGBT+ community. Of course, this year will be very different in that respect as well with all bars in the city closed for five consecutive days. This unprecedented and mind-boggling situation raises questions. What will Mardi Gras look like? Will people congregate in front of their favorite bars, even though they are closed? Are private house parties safer than being on the streets? Will locals just stay home while the tourist hordes take over the Quarter? Will the city actually enforce the stringent regulations it has put in place? Larger, long-term questions loom as well. How has COVID permanently affected Carnival? And what of the gay krewes and their future? Stay tuned as this and future Carnivals unfold.