I have been in the Krewe du Kanaval for the past three years. The Krewe was co-founded by Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, best known as the husband-and-wife duo that front the Grammy award-winning rock band, Arcade Fire. The duo is now part-time residents of New Orleans and good friends with Ben Jaffe of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Butler says the idea for Kanaval to start the Krewe stemmed from a trip he took with Jaffe to Haiti, it was Jaffe’s first time in the country. For Chassagne, the roots are deep because her parents are native Haitians who fled the country in the 1960s during the 13-year rule of dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and eventually made their way to Montreal.
In 2010, Chassagne co-founded Kanpe, a foundation that supports an array of health education and agriculture programs in Haiti. The Krewe Du Kanaval celebrations raise funds for the foundation. Haitian roots also run deep in New Orleans with many immigrants from the country moving to the city over the decades. Krewe du Kanaval is meant to be melding of cultures.
This year Kanaval was bigger and more ambitious than ever before. The krewe events started on Friday, which fell on Valentine’s Day with a “Ti Mache” walking tour of the Treme neighborhood with stops and speakers at historical locations. The opening ceremony in Congo Square featured Bruce Sunpie Barnes, Papa Titos and a performance by Chakra Dance Theater.
Crewe members were treated to a pre-party at Mahlia Jackson Theater before the Kanaval Ball later in the evening. Food was catered at the event by locally renowned chef Alon Shaya from his restaurant SABA. A DJ was spinning tunes and drinks were flowing as krewe members showed up in their festive costumes for the biggest ball in krewe history.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band kicked off the festivities at 10 PM immediately followed by Arcade Fire who played their first live show together in 18 months. Arcade Fire kicked off with the hit song “Everything Now” from their 2017 album. The band played until after midnight and then a DJ set took concertgoers into the early morning hours. Win and Régine along with the whole Arcade Fire crew seemed excited to back in front of the live audience.
On Saturday, the festivities started off with a pre-party at Tipitina’s before the parade where I glittered up and danced to get warmed up for the ride. I found my perfect drink process to be one screwdriver and one Coca-Cola and then repeat until ride time. The Kanaval Krewe partnered with the Krewe of Freret to have two floats and a marching crew to close out the procession with a carnival atmosphere.
Arcade Fire was on one float with Butler doing a DJ set and I was fortunate to ride on float two with a four-hour live set with Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It was truly a once in a lifetime type of experience. Many celebrities joined in with the Kanaval Krewe during the parade including Jimmy Buffett and Lorne Michaels.
The Kanaval finished off the night at Latrobe’s in the French Quarter with a massive after-party full of fun and spirits. You know it’s an epic party when Brad Pitt drops in straight off his Oscar win at 1 AM. It was truly an over the top experience and I can’t wait to see what next year has in store.