The signs were all there Friday night as the Order of the Inca marched through downtown Mobile, and they all said the same thing: It’s going to be an intense year for Mardi Gras in Mobile.
People pulled carts to carry the throws they expected to carry away from the parade. Some had brought stepladders, to give them that small but critical advantage in catching flying knick-knacks. People had claws to pick things up from the ground or from low branches. Some had specially designed narrow rakes to reach through barricades to fire shots that had failed.
None of these things are unusual at Mardi Gras, mind you. What is unusual is to see so many at the start of the season. Usually they come out later, closer to the twin peak season of Joe Cain Day and Fat Tuesday and people get serious about it.
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Same with the bagged chairs that lined the course in many places. Usually, people don’t bother with furniture if they’re making a quick trip downtown for a single weekday parade. It’s for the big days, when you’re here for the duration. The new mindset seems to be that every day is a big day.
Same with the few dozen motorcycles lined up on Jackson Street, just north of Government St. If there are a few dozen now, it will be a few hundred next weekend.
With the Order of the Peas, which rode in harsh weather conditions on Thursday, and the Order of the Inca, Mobile kicked into third gear and began accelerating the ramp-up to madness. From now on, the program foresees at least one parade a day, almost every day.
The first parade of the season, the Conde Cavaliers, drew an estimated crowd of 93,000 on February 11, a turnout that would have marked a strong pre-pandemic year. The Mobile Police Department’s estimate for the Order of the Inca was 44,500, slightly off the estimated 50,688 who turned out to watch the group’s procession in 2020, but respectable temperatures dropped in the 40s Friday night.
“I’m so happy Mardi Gras is back,” said restaurateur Noell Broughton, spotted in the crowd along Conception Street. “People say, ‘Man, I bet you’re happy when it’s over. No, I could do it all year.
Broughton had another reason to be excited: Later Friday night, one of his venues, the Brickyard, was set to feature The Stolen Faces, a Nashville ensemble with bassist Christian Grizzard, a veteran of the mobile scene. Thursday night in Nashville, the group was surprised to be joined by late-night TV host Jimmy Fallon; while Fallon was not expected to follow the group to Mobile, Broughton said, the group benefited from the attention generated by the cameo.
Back after a year where Mobile didn’t have parades due to the pandemic, the Order of the Inca seems to have used the break to take its floats to the next level: Lots of tree-lined architecture, effects of light and more ambitious animation than the pre-pandemic standard.
“I think they stepped up their game,” said Broughton, who said he noticed the same with the Polka Dots the night before. “I think everyone did.”
For continued coverage, visit www.AL.com/mardigras.