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The Krewe of Orleans Mardi Gras Ball 2018


The Krewe of Orleans Mardi Gras Ball 2018

 
THE PREAMBLE
As Seabrum “Breeze” Richardson exits Nate’s Seafood (https://www.natesseafood.com) on the Northern side of the Dallas Fort Worth area on a gloomy, humid Sunday afternoon, he gently cuddles something swaddled in wrapping tissue as if it were the newest addition to his family: an elaborate, oversized, painted, wooden carving of the fleur de lis.  Not only is this the New Orleans (pronounced nu or’lins, he admonished) Saints’ emblem, but it is a symbol that is revered and stylized throughout the New Orleanian culture. …and don’t get it twisted, New Orleans embodies much culture. This meeting with Breeze will apprise me of the New Orleanian culture having everything to do with the people, despite (m)any catastrophes effecting the land.
“My brother-in-law gave this to me, I need to go lock it in the car. I’ll be right back,” Breeze says as he virtually whisks pass us on our way into Nate’s. He briefly pulls back the tissue to expose the new born sculpture, then covers it right back up.  “We’re on the outside patio; Kevin is already here,” he says as he leaves us in his dust. 
Sitting around a table with Breeze, Joy Mayweather, and Kevin Knight, my man and I begin to receive schooling on everything from New Orleanian dialect to how to breakdown and consume platters of crawfish to what unbreakable people become in light of life-altering devastation.
Just after learning that Joy and Breeze have been thick as thieves since he DJ’d a comedy show at Joy’s venue in 2010 and that Kevin and Breeze met regarding promotions for the 2018 Mardi Gras Ball, our meeting was put on pause by an impromptu reunion with Monya, the operations manager of Avocado Restaurant & Lounge (https://www.avocado-lounge.com), who had walked in since we’d sat down. Apparently, The Krewe of Orleans had a Linens & Lids party at her restaurant and she was eager to greet him. During that welcome disruption, a few phone calls that Breeze intercepted and bathroom breaks by Joy, who was feeling a little under the weather, Kevin elaborated on how he, a German-born, world-traveled, young man in his late 30s, progressed from a career with AIG to being the CEO of a sustainable business, Urban Events Global (https://urbaneventsglobal.com/).
Apparently, Kevin was presented with the opportunity to support and attend the Krewe of Orleans (pronounced crew of or’ leans) Mardi Gras Ball. With protecting his brand in mind, Kevin checked-in with a few sources who validated The Krewe and the ball as a quality event. After which, Kevin sold over 60 tickets (6 tables) in short order by accessing his network.
Breeze rejoined us and Kevin in his demonstration of how to tackle the vast tray of crawfish before us.  There is a strategy, or strategies, to cracking, deveining and eating crawfish.  Most notably, the feast itself – crawfish boils, in particular – are communal in nature, where everyone eats from the same bucket and/or shares the same serving of crawfish which is usually spread across a huge table with sausage, corn and potatoes.  It was a most appropriate setting to discuss preparations for The Krewe of Orleans Mardi Gras Ball 2018. 
Joy and Breeze explain how The Krewe of Orleans Mardi Gras Ball was born.   Them and their partner, Tiki Hicks, were the Dallas Who Dats, hosting Saints watch parties when the idea of a Mardi Gras ball came up after a series of transitions in partnerships and venues. Joy, living in Dallas since 1996, explains that they have varied and complementary strengths that contributed to the creation of the ball: Joy sees the money, Tiki sees the vision and Breeze, who formerly owned a thriving nightclub in New Orleans, is the executor.
With that they progressed from distributing “Coming Soon” flyers on faith to, seeking sponsors, hustling to sell tickets to three years of trial and error to the pomp & circumstance of January 27, 2018 in Fair Park’s Centennial Hall.

 

THE KREWE OF ORLEANS MARDI GRAS BALL 2018
My eager, early arrival to size up the venue…

 

Parking and passing a few other vehicles with exclusive parking access, including Majic 94.5 and 97.9 The Beat vehicles, I entered Centennial Hall where there were no signs of the staged automobile showroom floor that it was a few months prior during the annual Texas state fair. Nope! The exact opposite, the hall was warmed by the sounds of Louisiana style brass bands booming from colossal speakers throughout the hall. … all-encompassing bass abounded. It was aided by the prominent purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power) staple Mardi Gras table liners, adornments, masks, beads, feathers, etc.  Waiters, waitresses, bartenders, photographers, videographers and various event staff moved about ensuring that the venue was suitable for patrons. As I made my way to the Entertainment section in the front, I saw a red carpet spanning the length of half a football field flanked by vendors and multiple picture stands/backdrops.  If all that wasn’t enough to transport me to New Orleans, the aromatic cajun smell wafting throughout took me right to my gumbo happy place. The cement pillars and beams left a little to be desired; nonetheless, I was won and the people would soon begin pouring in making them a mute point.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, Don Diego (https://www.dondiegojazz.com/), a reputable Dallas saxophonist booked in the DFW area somewhere virtually every night of the week, would take the stage, rotating sets with DJ Phreeze, Park Avenue’s Friday night, standing host, worldwide DJ and the the first Alpha Phi Alpha DJ to ever appear on television as a Fraternity DJ on BET’s Rap City. Patrons continuously walked, bounced, danced and twirled in with smiles, gowns, tuxedos, masks, umbrellas and mad swag. Oh yeah, the hall was heating up. My mind echoed Breeze and Joy emphasizing, “… it’s all about The People.”

Amongst all the excitement was a regal couple who commanded attention beyond the crowns they wore and the staff member that guided and shielded them like secret service. Obviously, I had to connect with Sean & Sherelle Reed, the 2017 Emperor and Empress.  It took a bit of convincing, actually asserting my “media” credentials, to secure an interview with them. It was the Queen who ultimately requested that they be allowed to step in the VIP Lounge and converse with me.  It’s something about The People who know who they are and their worth that intensified the desire to want to connect.

                           
I needed to know what it takes to qualify for Emperor & Empress, what are the expectations to wear the title, why would one even care to be Emperor & Empress, what, what, why …  They graciously obliged and advised.
                                              
The 2017 requirement was to have been a resident of New Orleans for two years to really appreciate that culture and everything that goes into Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is all about fun, family and having a good time. It’s deeply rooted in meaning and reverence before Mrs. Reed’s generation. With a peace and acceptance, she acknowledges it has become about coming together to have a great time and just let go. However, they maintain a high regard for giving back and proudly mention the money they’ve raised for Pearls of Service Inc. (http://pearlsofservice.org/home), a mentorship program for young girls in the DFW area. Mrs. Reed’s organization, Find Your Resilience, Incorporated which mentors and gives back to women and girls in the area is another such example. 
They wish for the upcoming royal couple to have a wonderful reign with lots of community service; because “it’s all about having an impact” {on The People}.  Mrs. Reed is passionate in expressing that they will be there to help them along the way.  Moreover, they feel like their ranking has provided a platform to make that impact.


Mr. Reed contributed to his wife’s responses with affirmative nods and grins until he exclaimed: Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler! (pronounced lā lā bän tän rulā), a French term that means “Let The Good Times Roll.” And with that they were off to enjoy the last few hours of their reign.
The celebration was in full effect, though people were still being checked in, styling and profiling on the red carpet and heating up the dance floor.  Rickey of  Lady B and the Something Special Dance Crew recruited me – an admittedly unskilled Swing dancer – to educate me on the differences between Chicago Step, an 8-count dance and Swing Dance, a 6-count dance.  The man leads, the woman follows and they are simply, beautifully and perfectly coordinated. It is a very sophisticated, upscale partnership-driven dance that lasted about two 6-counts for me, then I was done at the twirl. I know my lane; and know it is somewhere closer to Doug E. Fresh and the Prep, at this point.  But, it was delightful to watch.
Lady B joined her group next to my table and she was sent over to fill in some blanks for me. She started dancing after seeing the elegant interaction between a couple. “It’s enjoyable and great exercise,” she gleams. There is a culture around Swing dance, Stepping and Ballroom dancing. Swing dance is her preference because it’s upscale, grown & sexy dancing. She got into it because it was difficult to learn and when she overcame the hump, she was fascinated and became passionate about sharing it with others.  Her fourth year as a performer at the ball, she has seen the progress. Per Lady B, this year has even more of an organized flow; and is growing in the right direction.
Another powerhouse lady of the evening that DJ Phreeze went out of his way to introduce me to was DJ Frances Jaye, a former radio personality, a DJ of 18 years and the evening’s host. Happy to be hosting versus dragging speakers and turntables with her,  DJ Frances Jaye is accustomed to wearing many hats. After 10 years as a radio personality she turned to Dj’ing which offered her more freedom than Corporate America. She has since launched her very own radio station, Neo Soul Café (neosoulcafe.com) and six years ago added the Neo Soul Café app (free to download on Apple or Android). This is where you go for dope artists that you haven’t heard before; and where I go for the perfect backdrop to my writing session this crisp, sunny & slightly breezy Sunday afternoon. DJ Frances Jaye adds to her admirable resume,  a new album coming out soon, Head Space, Volume 1. The Krewe of Orleans has set the bar high with a vast array of artistry.


Meanwhile, Cupid had donned the stage and had The People waving their hands in the air like they just didn’t care and ultimately he raised the entire roof with that infectious Cupid Shuffle.  People were shuffling all over the place and the spirit of New Orleans continued to be impressed upon me.

 

Nichelle Williams from Baton Rouge strutted in with a feathery, blue mask to accentuate her blue gown and … alone.  Nichelle had no qualms about coming to the ball “solo” as she proudly exclaimed. Her family is from New Orleans “at the heart.” She’s in Dallas by way of Katrina. This was her first Mardi Gras ball ever in her life and she also proudly acclaims her 52 years of age. She was simply over the hustle that her life had become, “people are leaving” and she knew where to come for a great time. 

Terraz, also another transplant in Dallas due to Hurricane Katrina, has been in DFW for 12 years. She remembers only being able to make it as far as Baton Rouge for the first 7 days, then her and her family were able to safely make it to Dallas. She reports staying with a friend who’d just moved to Dallas a month prior. This New Orleanian friend accommodated about 14 people in a 2 bedroom apartment.  This story is not unfamiliar and resembles Breeze’s instance of being forced to Dallas by hurricane Katrina with his wife and 2 small children to stay with his brother-n-law and 13 other people in one house.
These are real life instances of the spirit of New Orleans that is celebrated during Mardi Gras, that is in The People, that is missed and that appears to have been successfully recreated by The Krewe of Orleans. Terraz also reiterates that people DO NOT leave New Orleans; and they are resilient. They have survived many storms and true-to-form – based on how many people have re-established themselves in the DFW area – demonstrate very glamorously that the spirit is in The People and it lives on.  “We transition well,” she says.
Terraz advises me that The Krewe of Orleans successfully mimics the Zulu balls in New Orleans.  She re-iterates:  Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler! An “epic” time for children growing up participating in the parades, seeing the “Indians” and everyone interacting with each other.  Mardi Gras brings everyone together. These same truths were re-iterated by many of The People, including Rhoda Brown (12 years in Dallas), Bridgette Culpepper (30 years in Dallas) and Deon James McCoy (22 years in Dallas).
Deon McCoy and her family/crew show-stopped as they entered dancing, dipping, twirling umbrellas, blowing whistles and that famous “foot work”.  Deon’s father, Samuel James, and aunt, Bobbie Porter, were amongst the crew that took up the entire red carpet and aisle-way as they danced towards their table. “Mardi Gras is about love, family and excitement” Deon says. “My dad inbred Mardi Gras and the New Orleans culture into me. It’s about excitement. I love my heritage!”
Her father, whom I respect as an elder says his parents brought him to Mardi Gras celebrations when he was a young kid. “It is about feeling liberated, free, releasing the stress and just having a good time with friends and family and community,” he says as he dances around me.
Bobbie Porter, an elder who came from Houston to join her family at the ball, says they faced a lot of racism coming up in New Orleans, were excluded and had to do their own thing. They created the Zulu ball. The “king always came across the river on a boat” and that kicked off the celebration.  “Mardi Gras, being a Catholic ‘holiday’ was always dominated by Caucasians, so our people started the Zulu balls and the Native Americans came out to support,” Mrs. Porter professes, also still restlessly moving her body to the beat. She explained, there were plenty social and pleasure clubs. It was common practice for them to “come out” at social balls.  They learned how to dress and have proper etiquette at cultural balls. Their fathers would walk them out, a rite of passage. During Mardi Gras they attended the Zulu ball, for which they were prepared because of all the social and pleasure club activities throughout the year.

     
Speaking of coming out, it was approaching time for the Royal Court, the ceremony specifically designed to present and crown the 2018 Emperor and Empress.  But, before that there was the Senior royal couple I needed to acknowledge, Mike and Donna Brousseau, in Dallas for 12 years, since Hurricane Katrina.
Though, they were attempting to be led to their table by their secret service agent, they welcomed my inquiries with deference and open arms. The first crowned Emperor and Empress in 2016, this will be their third year as a royal couple, the Senior royal couple. And they fit the part: graceful, warm and dazzling.
The Krewe of Orleans has afforded them the opportunity to find a network of people from New Orleans with like minds and cultural values. Mr. Brousseau took me by the arm and explained, “Mardi Gras leads into Lent. It is a time to let go, let loose. It’s called Fat Tuesday.  We consume as much food and drink as we can and then give it all up for Lent, leading up to Easter. It’s a celebration that we {The People} honor. People sacrifice during the Lenten season all around the world. It’s like a climax.”
They missed the New Orleans culture and agree that the Krewe of Orleans has done a wonderful job bringing the spirit and culture of Mardi Gras to Dallas; and “they are a young organization. We give them an A+.”
As the Senior members of the royal family, they encourage the upcoming Emperor and Empress to keep the energy alive remembering things that are positive and good about New Orleans. “There’s plenty here to celebrate; you don’t have to fly to New Orleans.”

In response to my interest in possibly being crowned one day, I was admonished to learn the New Orleans Mardi Gras culture, be of service, d
ress the part, learn 2nd Line dancing, have the costume (i.e. umbrella, whistle, etc.).
Regarding the costuming, Mr. Brousseau says it’s a fusion between the Africans and the “Indians.” The costumes give a message to the Native Americans that held us down when we were brought to this country.
As for Mrs. Brousseau: this Queen is the regal, confident, quiet storm every conscious woman wants to be when she grows up. In her vibe I discern she knows exactly when to speak, hold ‘em, fold ‘em, blow ‘em… There’s just a powerful unspoken knowingness there, even in how she frankly, yet gingerly corrects her husband, “…Native Americans, not Indians,” then smiles.
I had a brief moment to meet & greet the 2018 Emperor and Empress. Yes, secret service side-eyed me as I approached their table clutching my credentials while Mr. Williams poured Apple Crown Royal over his glass of ice.
Leonard & LaTonya Williams, in Dallas for 12 years, since Hurricane Katrina, the 2018 Emperor and Empress.  There was just enough time for Mrs. Williams to explain, “Emperor and Empress is the Krewe’s way of making it more regal than king and queen, because we are {regal}. ” She emphasized the seriousness of knowing and loving the culture. She looks forward to modeling emperor and empress for younger, upcoming members to keep the culture going. Mr. Williams states, “There is a rite of passage that goes with being crowned and it includes costuming.” Before they are guided away, Mrs. Williams teaches, “We call this ballin’… the entire experience.”

 

Then as if I were being transported to another world, maybe into a scene from Coming to America, the atmosphere began to change and I was cajoled to move to either side of the dance floor.  That was my first time noticing that there was a gold runway in the center of the room. The senior couple was announced and made an entrance, followed by the reigning, 2017 Emperor and Empress, four other royal couples of the 2017 family. Then Cedar Hill High School’s band was introduced as they began to pave the way for the 2018 Royal Court.

 

                                    
Introductions of the 2018 royal family began with four couples, then a new addition to the family, the Grand Dutch and Grand Duchess, city councilman elect Marvin Sutton and his wife Raquel Sutton.
Did I say pomp and circumstance? I meant grandiosity. The 2018 crowned Emperor and Empress, Mr. & Mrs. Williams made their way down the aisle to individual introductions, a turned up band, flashing lights and videographers rolling about capturing them as they came down the aisle. There was even a photographer on a hoverboard trying to capture his best angle.

 

I sensed no discomfort from either of the Williams’ as the attention of the entire hall was on them.  They made their way to the stage where they were crowned by the Reeds then over to their thrones where their personal photographer captured their every move, every gift, every kiss, every picture request … The Williams’ own their royalty and I have no doubt they are an addition that the Royal Family will be proud of.


THE FIFTH ELEMENT


                                   

The announcements informed of a transition in the celebration to party time (I was unsure of what we would call all that had taken place up to that point, if not a party; but okay). The majority of the ballroom was at the base of the stage eager to take in this pioneering, hip hop legend.  The one and only Doug E. Fresh. 
Doug E. Fresh casually made his way to the stage with all black: slacks, a button down, a blazer and a barely-there haircut as if he were in a room with familiar cousins, aunts and uncles.  With real skills and hip hop lyrics about timeless topics, he was a very appropriate headliner for this Mardi Gras Ball that included elders. He reminded us who Dougie is and how Dougie does.
He also took us back as far as the 70s, then brought us up to the 80s and 90s with lyrics, dope beats and old-school dances before taking us to school, for real.
According to Doug E. Fresh, there are 5 elements of “real hip-hop.”
  1. The DJ
  2. The MC, not a rapper. There’s a big difference between being a Master of Ceremony and a rapper, he admonishes.
  3. The graffiti
  4. The dancers
  5. The beatbox
Doug E. Fresh hails as the creator of the 5th element. He is the Human Beat Box,  but what he did, 25+ years later in his career, was un-human.

…and scene.

After Doug E. Fresh’s performance, I was advised that the 2nd Line band (the ones in a procession/parade after the initial band, typically including dancers doing “foot work”) procession was about to begin. Eager to get an interview with the revered Jermaine “Flagboy J” Devizin, I made my way half a football field down the red carpet to where he waited, holding his head piece.  Flagboy J didn’t hesitate to share his knowledge and passion about Mardi Gras. 

Instead of celebrating Mardi Gras the traditional way in New Orleans the black people started dressing up as Native Americans to show homage to the Native Americans who took them in after emancipation from slavery.  Currently, there are over 70 different Mardi Gras “tribes” in New Orleans.
Flagboy J, who’s been in Dallas 12 years, since hurricanes Katrina, founded the Unfaded Brass Band to keep the culture alive here in Dallas. It was hard to get them off the ground but now the momentum is building because, like many New Orleanians, difficulty does not stop them.
They are succeeding in injecting some of the New Orleans flavor into Dallas and have an album coming soon. You can find them on Facebook at Unfaded Brass Band and (www.unfadedbrassband.net). If the primary band in a procession were considered an appetizer, just coin the 2nd Line the main course. Simple.
As for Flagboy J … he said his costume weighs 75 pounds. It is a labor of love. Much like his band, he is unfaded and un-phased. (click here)
To bring a full night of exposure full circle, was Tiki Hicks, “Aren’t you supposed to interview me?”  Tiki is small-statured, but has an undeniable presence. It makes sense that she was the lady who continuously forced me out of the way, as I continuously repositioned myself to get the best angle of the Royal Court runway.
“Yes, ma’am.” Though I was fading fast, I’d heard enough from Breeze and Joy to know that even if my night ended before catching an interview with Doug E. Fresh, I could NOT end my night without talking to Tiki Hicks.
I was parched and tired. Tiki got two glasses of ice and – in true New Orleanian style – when she realized she didn’t have enough for two, she poured me the last of her Ciroc. We settled into the VIP Lounge and the missing piece of The Krewe was brought into focus for me.
Tiki was passionate about her vision as if it had just come to her last night, even recalling the tree she stood under at Real Time Sports Bar & Grill when relaying it to Breeze. Pride exuded as she recalled Mardi Gras in New Orleans and its impact.
“Oh My Gawd!” she exclaimed. “It brings people together as one and lots of revenue for the city.” 
The People found themselves in Dallas, devastated due to hurricane Katrina and the subsequent longing for their culture led to a pseudo-depressed state.  Something needed to be done. Jackie, Tiki’s best friend and seemingly loyalist cheerleader, joined the conversation confirming that she had to listen to Tiki’s vision for the Royal Court incessantly as it evolved. Tiki talked about the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club (http://www.kreweofzulu.com/) that has their own, exclusive Mardi Gras Ball, Krewe parties and a series of events in New Orleans. The Indians, the 2nd Line, the live entertainment, the King & Queen (Emperor & Empress for the Krewe of Orleans), The People. Period. I mean, she emphasized, “The People,” and stopped talking.
In essence, Tiki in tandem with Joy and Breeze, married their strengths to create a home away from home for The People. The Daquari Shoppe (http://thedaiquirishoppe.com/) – the home of sells & promotions year round leading up to The Ball – was their first sponsor to supplement ticket sells, for the inaugural Mardi Gras Ball.  They have grown in all aspects since then: sponsors, sells, entertainment and vision. It’s safe to say that The Krewe, approaching their fifth year in business, is on the right side of success.
Despite an expressed sentiment that New Orleans is good for dirty rice and dirty politicians, the love doesn’t wane. Furthermore, The People and the culture are a common thread amongst all New Orleanians, wherever. There is a solidarity and pride that will not die, come what may. The New Orleans Diaspora may find The People in all four corners of the country. But, thanks to Katrina and The Krewe of Orleans the landscape of Dallas is forever hedonistic, forever richer, forever changed.

Thank you Breeze, The Krewe, The Royal Family, Flagboy J and all the entertainers and patrons that allowed me to penetrate their world.

#Zululife
#ThePeople
#NOLAlove
#foreverbranded
#KOOmardigrasball2018 


Luv YA!

 
Copyright © 2018 by 3rd Eye Am, LLC
~ for bookings visit www.melvinampowers.com or email shewrites@melvinampowers.com ~


2 thoughts on “The Krewe of Orleans Mardi Gras Ball 2018

  1. Unfortunately it took us almost a year to stumble onto your refreshing article covering our Dallas 2018 Krewe of Orleans Mard Gras Ball. Thank you for graciously highlighting our annual authentic cultural celebration in Dallas, and sharing sweet stories of our love, passion and special memories of what we miss most and still need to celebrate of our rich unique New Orleans and Louisiana Mardi Gras heritage. We have so much more to share with the world, and you are welcome with the best view as our special guest. First Royal Emperor and Empress, ’16

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