NEW ORLEANS — With ideal weather as a backdrop, crowds poured onto the streets Sunday in the traditional warm-up for Carnival's big show on Fat Tuesday when New Orleans expresses itself in song, dance and masked spectacle.
Sunday featured celebrity-laden parades — including CNN's Anderson Cooper, actress Kelly Ripa, the rock band Train and actor Andy Garcia — and the typical drunken revelry of the French Quarter where tourists, locals and swarms of spring breakers rubbed shoulders.
Sunday was packed with the festivity that was missed on Saturday. Heavy downpours that canceled parades and forced the superkrewe of Endymion, a crowd favorite, to be pushed back a day. The line of thunderstorms that crossed the state spawned a tornado that killed a woman shielding her toddler son in Rayne, La.
In New Orleans, the warm-up was in full swing and people celebrated under beautiful clear skies.
On Bourbon Street, Pete and Helen Drago, Mardi Gras old-timers dressed in beads and formal clothes, walked slowly through the still-brewing madness, arm-in-arm and on the lookout for some place to dance their specialty, the jitterbug. After 55 years of marriage, and even more years of Carnival under their belts, they were ready for another round of fun.
"That's what we do: We dance everywhere there's good music," Helen, 76, said. "Mardi Gras is dressing up, coming out, meeting people and having a good time."
"We're just messing around today," Pete, a former dancer with Louis Prima, a New Orleans music jazz singer and trumpeter who helped make Bourbon Street a party mecca in the 1950s. "Tomorrow we'll be dressed up!"
The tempo ratchets up even more on Monday — known as Lundi Gras — as the Carnival festivity moves closer to its climax on Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday. The excesses of Carnival end at midnight Tuesday with the beginning of Lent.
Going the other way down Bourbon toward the strip clubs and mayhem of bead throwing, a group of spring breakers from Illinois State University had daiquiris in hand.
They'd arrived near dawn, seven crammed in a Chevy Traverse after 14 hours on the road getting 20 miles to the gallon. They parked and started drinking.
"We just got here. We haven't even checked into the hotel yet," said Ethan Galvan, a 22-year-old mass communications major.
Slideshow: Carnival around the world (on this page) On Jackson Square, a group of girlfriends from the University of South Carolina were much more tame — and still in search of wildness.
"It's crazy, but it's not as crazy as I thought it would be," said Katherine Davis, a 21-year-old marketing and management major.
The costumes were beginning to come out.
Don May and Tim Simer were dressed like drag queens in hoop dresses, big colorful wigs, jewelry galore and tights.
"We just came back from church," May, a 56-year-old landlord from Memphis, Tenn., joked as gangs of revelers on Toulouse Street asked to get their picture taken next to him. "It's hard to fit these dresses in a pew."
Down the street in front of Johnny White's bar, a posse of bikers from St. Bernard Parish smoked cigars and drank cans of beer. They said they'd been coming to the bar for Carnival since they were 10 years old.
"I come out the uterus doing it," said 54-year-old Wayne "Spudley" Debouchel.
But they were a bit peeved. After years of parking their motorcycles without hassle in front of Johnny White's, a favorite watering hole for bikers, they'd just gotten tickets.
"$75 party fee," said Robert "Frenchie" Francois.
Far from the drunken revelry of the French Quarter, crowds packed the oak-tree lined St. Charles Avenue, jostling for the beads, stuffed animals, flying discs and trinkets that masked riders on elaborate floats throw to the adoring crowds.
It gets so crowded on St. Charles, and real estate on the parade route is so prized, families rope off sections along the route 24 hours or more before the parades roll, often getting up in the middle of the night to stake out their plots.
The camps include barbecue pits, mini kitchens, portable toilets, lawn chairs, stacks of coolers and rows of ladders for children to stand on to get up above the heads of parade watchers.
Sunday featured two of the biggest favorites: the Krewe of Bacchus and the Krewe of Endymion.
The grand marshals for the Endymion parade included Anderson Cooper, Kelly Ripa and Train. Andy Garcia reigned as Bacchus.
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