Mardi Gras

Hard work is behind the scenes of Carnival

The Krewe of Neptune will parade on Feb. 25 this year in Biloxi. This is the first year for the krewe’s parade after party, Neptunalia, which will be at Hard Rock Live in the Hard Rock Casino Biloxi.
The Krewe of Neptune will parade on Feb. 25 this year in Biloxi. This is the first year for the krewe’s parade after party, Neptunalia, which will be at Hard Rock Live in the Hard Rock Casino Biloxi.

For most people who attend a Carnival parade, it’s all about the beads and other throws. For some, it’s about the bands and other marching groups, too. But have you ever thought about how it all comes together? You can thank a krewe or organization’s captain or president for that.

In fact, the captain’s responsibilities are even more complicated than simply putting on a parade, as involved as that can be.

In the Gulf Coast Carnival Association, the captain serves a total of four years, two as lieutenant captain and two as captain.

What does the captain do?

“Everything that goes along with putting it on,” said Steve Polk, who is in his second year as GCCA captain. That includes choosing the court, the theme and the design of memorabilia such as the official poster, T-shirt, cups and huggies. Yes, and putting on the parade.

“The captain’s wife is probably the most unsung hero,” Polk said. “She does a significant amount of the behind-the-scenes work. The week after Mardi Gras last year, my wife, Melissa, and I were coming up with the theme.”

The captain also works closely with the person designing costumes (in GCCA’s case, that’s Sheila Gray).

“Watching an idea being transferred into the costumes — that was an eye-opener for myself,” he said.

Year’s worth of work

The court is chosen the previous April, he said. That’s to help ensure those chosen are able to fulfill their roles. It also helps give the costume designer time to work on each person’s unique look.

“We own and manage 27 floats,” Polk said. “The captain is responsible for the float dens.” That includes making sure generators are on board and upkeep on the fleet.

The coronation ball, presentation of the court and tableaux are not seen by most people on the parade route, so the parade reflects not only on the organization but the city itself, Polk noted.

“A significant number of people come from all over and don’t know what a krewe or organization is,” he said. “They assume the city is putting on the parade. So we want to look good not just for ourselves but also for Biloxi.”

In the Krewe of Neptune, the president fulfills the role of captain. That’s Gerald Everett, who has been president of the relatively young krewe since 2009.

Long list of duties

“I try to find a few minutes to sleep every now and then. There’s always something to take care of,” Everett said with a laugh. “One thing, there are a number of great people on the board” who help everything run smoothly.

As president, Everett is responsible for getting the New Orleans floats Neptune uses and housing them, plus ordering and loading beads on them.

“And that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

There’s the coronation ball, which needs a script, directing, lighting and sound.

“It really is like putting on a production, with music and choreography,” he said.

Inaugural party

Speaking of productions, this is the debut year for Neptunalia, the krewe’s big after-parade party, which will start at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at Hard Rock Live inside the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi. The Utah-based party band No Limits will headline the extravaganza, with DJ Hyphee starting the party. Tickets are $25 at, and the party is open to anyone 21 old older.

“We wanted to do something over here like what Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus have in New Orleans,” he said. “Hard Rock came to us, and they’re right on the parade route. Now, we won’t be able to bring the floats into the casino like they do at the Superdome, but this is going to be a big after-party. Hard Rock has been wanting to offer Hard Rock Live for use to outside groups.”

This is Polk’s last year as captain. He’ll retire March 1.

“Part of me will miss it, and part of me can get that part of my life back,” he said. “We’re all volunteers. For 50 to 60 hours a week, you work to make the money to make it happen, and then you give 10 to 20 hours a week through the year to planning.”

An emotional sight

But all the work is worth it.

“There’s a feeling of relief,” he said, referring to riding out onto the route on Fat Tuesday. “All the work is behind you and now you can just enjoy the moment.

“Here’s 90,000 to 100,000 people who came to see something you’re in charge of, and they’re having a great time. It’s a great feeling.”

On “Neptune Saturday,” the evening on which Neptune has paraded for the past three years, all riders are expected to be “100 percent costumed and masked and in (safety) harnesses.”

Everett doesn’t mind admitting that first evening parade was an emotional one.

“When we turned that first corner onto Main Street, I don’t mind telling you we all had tears in our eyes. What a sight that was. It’s so exciting, and you get caught up in that energy. Especially with the kids, just to see their faces. You feel like you’re doing something good.”

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1