The Krewe du Vieux (KdV) was founded in 1987, born from the ashes of the fabled Krewe of Clones. The Clones began in 1978, based out of the Contemporary Arts Center. This “Art Parade” became wildly popular for their imaginative and creative street performance art. By 1985, the Krewe of Clones had grown to 30 subkrewes and over 1500 marchers.
After the Clones imposed rules designed to create a respectable Uptown parade, Craig “Spoons” Johnson of the Krewe of Underwear and Don Marshall of Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carre conspired to form a new parading Krewe. Their intent was to bring back parading in the French Quarter in the free-wheeling style of the Clones without myriad rules and expenses. Free from the constraints of decorum and reality, KdV was established as an official parade.
The “Krewe du Vieux Carre” would henceforth march in the French Quarter on the third Saturday before Fat Tuesday. The Krewe’s historical name, suggested by Don Marshall, paid homage to Le Petit Theatre, one of KdV’s earliest supporters. The theater was the pre-parade gathering spot for several years, with many of their performers joining the entourage.
“Spoons” was our first Captain, assisted by Susan Gibeault and Ray “Plaine” Kern. These three friends combined their talent for lunacy and satire with lots of hard work. After Ray was appointed Captain by popular acclaim, the motley group of 150 revelers evolved into a loosely organized group of 600 members divided into sixteen subkrewes following an announced route.
Pioneer subkrewes from those early days included the Seeds of Decline, Underwear, Mama Roux, C.R.U.D.E, and Space Age Love. Traditions such as the hand-made, hand or mule-drawn floats and showcasing our city’s incredible brass bands became firmly established. The annual “Krewe du Vieux Doo” ball that is traditionally held immediately following the parade has become an exciting finish to the night.
Another innovation deviously devised by Captain Kern came in 1992: in honor of the reign of King Angus Lind, renowned scribe at the Times-Picayune, Krewe du Vieux created its wildly popular newspaper/scandal sheet, Le Monde de Merde. Often described as “sixteen pages of pure libel,” it has never been translated due to contents that are neither printable nor fit for refined discourse. Ray’s time as Captain culminated with the 1998 “Souled Down The River” parade, ending at the uniquely appointed Ball site, the recently closed Krauss Department Store on Canal Street.
The next year “Plaine” Kern was kicked upstairs to reign as KdV royalty and the Captain’s mantle fell on Keith Twitchell. Keith worked tirelessly to organize this hurricane-force group during his three year tenure, initiating many upgrades to the floats. Pierre Mc Graw, Captain of the Knights of Mondu, developed a float design template for navigating the Quarter’s narrow streets and pirate’s alleys. Custom-made harnesses and hitches used for the mule-powered floats further connected KdV to the ancient traditions of Mardi Gras.
In 2001, KdV presented its first Title Float to the world. The upgraded floats also debuted that year and parade spectators found many of the 17 subkrewes looking far less shabby than usual. KdV learned to face the music and the truth: we were growing like kudzu and drawing crowds like a cockfight. Captain Keith also began the tradition of our Captain’s Dinner, held prior to the parade to honor our royalty, past and present.
Additionally, Jim and Tonia Aiken fortuitously purchased a Faubourg-Marigny warehouse with “Plaine” during this period. Known as the “Den of Muses,” this building became headquarters for most of the krewes to meet, store, and build their floats. This cauldron of creativity is the place where KdV becomes one, the Quonset hut where dreams and glue guns meet.
The State Palace Theater on Canal Street hosted our Vieux Doo from 1999-2006, right till the moment it was declared unsafe for even the likes of us. Kathrine Cargo became Captain during this era. She led us like a Pied Piper from atop her stud-ly mule, and we followed that ass. “Captain Inertia,” as she was known, presided over us for four steady years. Susan Gibeault won the lottery of leadership in 2005, the year her house would flood. Susan worked like a Cajun in a pirogue hustling us through Bayou Misery. Hundreds of Krewe members were displaced and our beloved Den of Muses narrowly averted disaster.
The 2006 parade was the first Mardi Gras parade post-Katrina and the worldwide spotlight shone on Krewe du Vieux. Media from over eighty countries covered the parade which marched with the highly appropriate theme of “C’est Levee.” The 900 members of Krewe du Vieux knew the truth: Preserve our culture and heritage first, and the recovery will follow. The 2006 parade was an extraordinary success; despite hundreds of thousands of residents in forced exile and unseasonably cold weather, the crowd was enormous. The satire erupting from the souls of our members was brilliant and poignant.
In 2007 Lewis Schmidt ascended from “Vice” to Captain, leading us around mold and sheetrock as the Crescent City slogged through a slow recovery. Mentally stressed and traumatized citizens rejoiced as we selected Chris Rose, author of “One Dead in Attic,” as our royalty. The years 2008-2010 marked The Second Coming of Captain “Plaine” Kern. KdV bounced between the Trash Palace, Colton School, and Michalopoulos Studio for its elusive Ball site during these years as we grew to almost one thousand members. Lee Mullikin of the Mystick Krewe of Comatose is the current Captain. He trained for three years as Ray’s underboss.
2010 represents our 25th year in existence and we have selected Don Marshall as our very deserving royalty.
Krewe du Vieux is an existential culmination of vision and spirituality, not easily described. Our parade brings us together from our everyday lives for one glorious night of love, primitive desires and ecstasy. We bond to the people around us as we playfully exchange smiles, hugs, and the joi de vivre that New Orleans brings to the world.