Laissez les bons temps rouler means Let the Good Times Roll. “You can live in any city in America, but New Orleans is the only city that lives in you.” – Chris Rose
Christa Gonzales said Mardi Gras is “the greatest party you will ever attend”. She would know as she has spent the past twenty years working and celebrating in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Wikipedia refers to Mardi Gras as “…the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for ‘Fat Tuesday’, reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season.” To Christa, Mardi Gras is pure joy, excitement, and visually amazing. She said to describe it you would need to use every positive adjective. For Christa and Mardi Gras Parade Bands it is also a time of watching a year’s worth of work come to life.
It all began with Harry Mendelson, Sr. who was a musician and an educator in Louisiana. Mendelson founded and was Captain of two Mardi Gras Krewes during his time. He became a part of the creation and growth of the Mardi Gras tradition by helping bring music to numerous parades in New Orleans. He was hired by a Krewe to recruit bands, marching units, and more to participate in the celebration. As he worked hard over the years his daughter, Musette Gonzales, was watching and learning from him. Then in 1969 upon Mendelson’s passing his daughter carried the torch and expanded the tradition for over 40 more years. In 2013, Musette Gonzales retired and passed the family business down to her two sons, Michael and Matthew, and their wives, Christa and Meagan. The two couples now work together year around. They all share the passion and appreciation for music as Harry Mendleson, Sr. did.
In 1837, the first Mardi Gras parade was held with horse drawn carriages. Twenty years later, in 1857, in the days before electricity nighttime parades were led by Flambeaux. This was a group of men that were typically slaves or freemen of color that would carry handheld torches to light the path for the parade. Flambeaux still carries on this tradition today and the New Orleans Police Department screens and selects homeless men to help carry the lit torches for this beautiful tradition. New Orleans is rooted in Catholic history and Mardi Gras has deep rooted traditions as well. Christa says being a part of this creates an “overwhelming sense of responsibility”. From the traditions of the throws which can range from beads, doubloons, stuffed animals, cups or a signature throw. Krewes also mask the riders on the floats. These are just a few of the many traditions that take place during carnival time. Mardi Gras is not what the press shows on Bourbon Street, but very much a family affair. Some say it is as important to the children as Christmas.
Christa remembers as a young child watching the parades at the corner of the street and the excitement surrounding her. She never in her wildest dreams thought she would have the opportunity to be a part of planning bands for Mardi Gras parades with her family. Christa is thankful for the opportunity to show her appreciation for music through working with her family to carrying on a legacy of Mardi Gras Parade Bands.
Christa said that in her eyes the whole city of New Orleans knows her amazing mother in law, Musette Gonzales. She feels that she laid the framework and created relationships that remain intact today. “I am close with my mother in law” and she gives “the best advice and inspires us”. Christa said that all the people that they work with for become like friends. She stated too that “our family has a lot of appreciation for these band directors as well as the students in the band”. They recruit bands from all over the country to be in these world-class level parades at Mardi Gras. Many of the bands that participate in their parades have also marched in the Rose Bowl Parade and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Mardi Gras Parade Bands finds it rewarding to hear from band directors that their trip to New Orleans was the first opportunity for many band students to travel out of their hometowns. A vast majority of the bands make return visits to Mardi Gras because of the wonderful experience for their students.
Mardi Gras may have ended a couple weeks ago but the work for the 2018 Mardi Gras season has already begun. Mardi Gras Parade Bands are contracted with the Krewes which are local nonprofit organizations in New Orleans. They work year-round doing planning, organizing and coordinating of the bands for the Krewe’s parades. The Krewes elect a royal court including a King and Queen which also host elaborate balls and parties. This past Mardi Gras season they were a part of seven parades. Some of these parades were approximately six miles long. A few of the Krewes that they have worked with are the Krewe of Nyx, Krewe of Mid City, Krewe of Hermes, Krewe of Iris, Krewe of Orpheus, Rex and the Krewe of Endymion. The Krewe of Endymion is also the biggest of all New Orleans Mardi Gras Krewes and the only one that ends inside of the Superdome. Christa gave us a glimpse into a crazy day with their family business on parade day. Their day typically begins with a police ride to the parade formation area, getting bands and marching units checked in. Once everyone is lined up they help parades move out of their formation line up. Then they are off to change into tuxes and floor length ball gowns for the Krewes balls or to work another parade. What is amazing is that these two couples plan all the bands for Mardi Gras from right here in Franklin, TN then come carnival season they pack up and drive to New Orleans for an eventful eleven days. They exemplify love, appreciation and passion for New Orleans!
Novelist Ruta Sepetys said “New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture- even the local superstitions. It’s a sensory experience on all levels and there’s a story lurking around every corner.” If you plan a visit to this amazing city during Mardi Gras Christa recommends visiting St. Charles Ave. She said to take your whole family including kids, grab a blanket, Popeyes Fried Chicken, and a King Cake, and enjoy the day. “Not a single restaurant is bad in New Orleans so enjoy foods like BBQ shrimp, gumbo, boiled crawfish, fried soft shell crab, and snowballs which have finely shaved ice”. Christa said “hands down it is the best food around”. She said besides her visit over Mardi Gras she typically goes four other times a year to visit.
Both couples making up, Mardi Gras Parade Bands, all have jobs outside of the family business. Their jobs range from a healthcare consultant, owner of Ground Restaurant here in Franklin, a eyelash artist to Christa who has been a Disney planner since 2015. Christa is also a busy mom of two boys, ages 8 and 11.
This Louisiana girl loves her family and creating memories. She hopes to carry on the legacy that Harry Menedelson, Sr. started and Musette Gonzales continued. When it is their time to pass it on they hope to pass this family business down to their kids. As my Grandmama, Bobbie, would say “keep it in the family”.
If you would like to create a memory for your schools band by being a part of a Mardi Gras parade then you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christa would love to see some local college, high school and middle school bands representing Tennessee at Mardi Gras
If you want to plan a magical vacation for your family reach out to Christa at email@example.com. She would be happy to help you plan a vacation you will remember for years to come!