Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Mardi Gras Parade No Geek Should Miss

It's Mardi Gras season here in New Orleans, which means tourists, traffic, king cakes, endless renditions of Mardi Gras Mambo, and (of course) parades. If you're a geek in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras and don't go to the Chewbacchus parade, you're doing it wrong. Period. No excuses. Seriously, even Peter Mayhew himself rides in this geek parade.

If you've been paying attention, you've heard me go on about Chewbacchus before; well, here's where I explain exactly why this relatively new parade has been growing by leaps and bounds every year and has a distinctly cult-like following (more on the cult thing later). Read on as I go on an exclusive tour of the parade's "den" (where many of the contraptions are created and stored), introduce a brand new sub-krewe, and give you guys a sneak peek of some of the awesome, hand-made stuff you'll see rolling down the parade route on Saturday (including some fabulous throws to look out for):

Before we get into the meat of this, let's make sure everyone is on the same page. Mardi Gras parades are a big deal here; many of them are very old (Rex, for example dates back to 1872), but sometimes it seems like a new parade/krewe pops up every year. Wikipedia explains krewes best:
"A krewe (pronounced in the same way as "crew") is an organization that puts on a parade or ball for the Carnival season. [...] Krewe members are assessed fees in order to pay for the parade or ball. Fees can range from thousands of dollars a year per person for the most elaborate parades to as little as $20 a year for smaller marching clubs. Criteria for krewe membership varies similarly, ranging from exclusive organizations largely limited to relatives of previous members to other organizations open to anyone able to pay the membership fee. [...] Parading krewe members are usually responsible for buying their own throws, the trinkets thrown to parade spectators according to Mobile and New Orleans tradition."
The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus (IKOC) is one of the more inclusive parade krewes. Their dues are exactly $42.00 (because of course they are), and absolutely anyone can join. You pay your dues, throw on a costume, show up, and march. It's truly that simple. According to their website:
"The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus is a Mardi Gras parade organization for the most revelrous Star Wars Freaks, Trekkies, Whovians, Mega-Geeks, Gamers, Cosplayers, Circuit Benders, Cryptozooligists, UFO Conspiracy Theorists, Mad Scientists, and all the rest of Super Nerdom.
We also have a special place for Fantasy fandom within the Krewe under the auspicies of the Mystic Krewe of P.U.E.W.C. and a contingent specifically devoted to Horror… the Krewe of the Living Dead."
This glittery behemoth of a unicorn is the work of the Mystic Krewe of P.U.E.W.C.
The Mystic Krewe of P.U.E.W.C. (which stands for "People for the inclusion of Unicorns, Elves, and Whinebots in Chewbacchus") and Krewe of the Living Dead are examples of sub-krewes. Humans have a tendency to clump together based on common interests, and Chewbacchus is no exception. Sub-krewes can be highly organized and independent entities who exist year-round (often doing charity work, throwing their own events, and participating in conventions) like the Doctor Who themed Krewe du Who, or remain loose gatherings of people who simply come together for Mardi Gras and march in the parade in themed costumes, like E.T. themed sub-krewe, The Rolling Elliots.

The Space Commander Chewbaccacabra, Ryan Ballard, describes the Chewbacchus parade as...
"...a mobile, drunken Comic Con in many ways. There's gonna be a range of fandom out there, represented, and you know, there's sub-krewes for basically every fandom you could ever imagine. And if there's one missing, somebody's gonna make a sub-krewe for it."
(He means it, too. One of the other sub-krewes new to Chewbacchus this year is the Krewe of Sharknadeaux. I cannot make this shit up, people.)

They literally let their nerd flag fly.
I was granted a tour of the IKOC den/workshop/homebase, inside of Castillo Blanco, yesterday. This is where a lot of the parade contraptions are housed and worked on. Chewbacchus is a walking parade, meaning they don't have huge floats pulled by tractors; rather, they have handmade, cobbled together, contraptions that are either pulled, peddled, or pushed along the parade route by the people who made them. With the exception of a select few remote controlled/battery operated contraptions (like a full scale, remote controlled TARDIS), everything is powered by hand or by foot. There are a lot of bicycles, tricycles, rickshaws and shopping carts being re-purposed as nerdy people movers, floats, and (the all important) beer dispensaries. The "bacchus" part of Chewbacchus was not a mistake. In addition to being a play on the more traditional and popular Bacchus parade (which rolls next week, if you're so inclined), Chewbacchus is all about bacchanalian (or bacchanALIEN) revelry, so many of the contraptions you'll see rolling down the parade route are, in fact, working bars/kegs.

Bar-2 D2, everyone's favorite beer droid, has become a Chewbacchus staple, and I'll give you three guesses as to what the Blue Sun Beer Barrel is being pulled by (Hint: She's the smoothest ride from here to Boros). Other stuff to look out for:

This is just a tiny portion of a huge contraption that will be lighting up the streets and assimilating the masses.

Look for this work of art on the back of another piece. These people do not half-ass things.

The new Golden Wookie Idol, that is (of course) also a bar.
I mentioned earlier that Chewbacchus has an almost cult-like following. I wasn't kidding. The parade's theme this year is actually The Cult of the Sacred, Drunken Wookie. To celebrate, the IKOC had itself officially registered as a religious entity, specifically a satirical Space Cult. Seriously. Several members have been ordained and will be performing several wedding ceremonies and vow renewals at their ball on Saturday after the parade. Some people may be taken aback by the idea of a parade krewe becoming an official religious organization, but when you get to know the people of Chewbacchus and get to know their (in some cases) obsession with this krewe, you realize that it really was part of the natural progression of the organization.

This ever-growing shrine is a permanent fixture in the den and houses throws and props of old with idols that have been mailed to the krewe over the years.
It is of note that this funky krewe of creative women and men are not simply reaping the benefits of their status as a religion, they're also making sure to give back to the community. Per my guide, IKOC Cultural Ambassador, Martin Childs:
"This is the first year of our new service sub-krewe, The Charitable Sisters of the Wook. All of our members here, many of modest means, have put together over 300lbs of collected canned goods for Second Harvest [Food Bank], as well as we had a charity raffle, and it was well over 500$ in one evening that we gathered."
In addition to housing many of the parade's contraptions, a work shop, a practice stage for their bands, and the Sacred Drunken Wookie shrine, Castillo Blanco also includes The Space Sanctuary. Not only is this magical room absolutely gorgeous (I just wanted to lay down and stare at the ceiling for hours), it's also where you can find the fully functional, salt water, float tank. Yep, you read that right. They have a full sized, working, sensory deprivation chamber in their den. Top that, Rex!

One day, I will do this to my bathroom, and you will never ever see me again.
Now, you cannot have a Mardi Gras parade without throws, and Chewbacchus has the best throws of all the parades (hands down), but don't expect to catch any beads. Just like their contraptions and costumes, all the throws from Chewbacchus are handmade by the krewe members. Every, single thing you walk away from this parade with was made by someone in the parade, and these are some insanely creative nerds! One of the themed throws this year is the Build Your Own Bandolier throw. Basically, you catch a blank bandolier with some velcro on it, and then collect custom velcroed blocks from as many sub-krewes as you can to affix to your bandolier. It's blood genius, is what it is.

This fuzzy bandolier block has already made its way onto the shrine with a King Cake Baby in Carbonite and Yoddha.
There are plenty of throws that aren't specific to the bandoliers as well, like this Rib of the Sacred, Drunken Wookie (painstakingly crafted by dedicated members who were willing to sacrifice their time to eat a bunch of BBQ ribs for the cause):

While at the den, I also had a chance to meet up with some of the members of new sub-krewe, Krewe du Groot, and snag a peek at some of their throws. They might be brand new (formed only 3 weeks ago), but this small krewe is bringing out the Hadron Enforcer of big guns when it comes to creative throws:

(Insider Tip: An undisclosed number of these are random, re-purposed cassettes; you should absolutely try to play them.)

So, if you're a geek in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras, you simply cannot miss this parade. I've only included a smattering of all the amazing stuff you will see this Saturday, Feb 7th, starting at 6pm; you've got to show up to see the rest. Here's where to go:

See you there!


  1. As a hardworking ChewbacchanALIEN, it is my dream to see one of my throws around town after the parade! It would make all of us insanely happy if y'all were to share pictures of our throws in their new homes! Post your pics and tag them #IKOC (stands for Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus) or #chewbacchus. Also, check out our Instagram page for more throw pics!

    1. That sounds awesome! Everyone should totally do that!!