Houses in New Orleans are transformed into Mardi Gras floats

For the people of New Orleans, Louisiana, Mardi Gras is more than just the world's biggest free party. It is the throbbing, pulsing, beating heart of the city's culture. But the coronavirus pandemic put much of that on hold after the city of New Orleans announced on Friday that the city would close all bars, ban the sale of to-go drinks, and halt all large gatherings from February 12 to February 16. Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the ever-creative residents of New Orleans have found a whole new canvas for their artistic expression. Jamie Wax has the details.

Video Transcript

- [INAUDIBLE] streets right there, but down in New Orleans, Mardi Gras arrives just three days from now. While Fat Tuesday seems to get all the attention, it's actually just the final celebration following weeks and weeks of parades and other events. The pandemic's put much of that on hold, but the ever creative residents of the city have found a whole new canvas for their artistic expression. Our Jamie wax has their story.

[MARCHING BAND PLAYING]

JAMIE WAX (VOICEOVER): For the people of New Orleans, Mardi Gras is more than just the world's biggest free party. It's the throbbing--

[CHEERING]

--pulsing,

[MARCHING BAND PLAYING]

--beating heart of the city's culture.

[CHEERING]

But how do you keep Mardi Gras alive when a pandemic has stopped the parades from rolling? You turn it in to Yardie Gras. All across the city and beyond, house floats have been popping up.

MEGAN BOUDREAUX: The universe put me in the right place at the right time and everybody just latched on to the idea. And here we are, 3,000 house floats later.

JAMIE WAX (VOICEOVER): Back in late November, New Orleans resident, Megan Boudreaux, tweeted "It's decided. We're doing this. Turn your house into a float and throw all the beads from your attic at your neighbors walking by." That bit of levity and that simple idea spiraled into a grassroots movement that transformed New Orleans homes into the famed floats that typically parade through the city.

MEGAN BOUDREAUX: I got on Facebook and made a group to try and recruit some people. And that group just exponentially grew, within days, into something that was clearly going to need to be organized and not just the low key neighborhood thing that I had intended.

JAMIE WAX (VOICEOVER): She now has a team of over 50 volunteers and has inspired multiple other crews and individuals to join her in creating something to celebrate.

MEGAN BOUDREAUX: It's just been such a long year. And everything seems to be bad news. And just from day one, everyone I talked to said, this is so great. I have something fun to do, something positive to think about. And I think that's really why everybody just clung to it so quickly. Because I don't know that it would have happened in any other year.

DOUG MACCASH: It's a real triumph-- triumph of art, triumph of spirit. It's wonderful.

JAMIE WAX (VOICEOVER): Doug MacCash has been covering New Orleans culture for local publications for decades and has been photographing some of the most creative floats as they appear throughout the city.

JAMIE WAX: As you have documented all of these places, you've encountered a lot of locals, a lot of tourists passing by, families. What are you hearing from the people around these house floats?

DOUG MACCASH: I think people are really celebrating that-- We're supposed to have this reputation for being creative and never saying die, that kind of thing. And this is such a great example of it. And I think everybody is really enjoying that. Even in COVID, we're living up to expectations.

- Look, [INAUDIBLE]!

JAMIE WAX (VOICEOVER): A sentiment echoed by Joanie Broussard. We caught up with the Louisiana native as she was out with her family.

JAMIE WAX: What does it mean, when the parades are not rolling, for you to be able to see these houses like this?

JOANIE BROUSSARD: Well, this is actually incredible. You get to walk and actually see and take your time, as when floats pass, you've got to watch it or you miss it. So this is pretty neat.

JAMIE WAX: So for you, this is not the second choice. This is even better.

JOANIE BROUSSARD: I think so. I mean, COVID has done a lot of bad for a lot of people, but I don't think people would have thought of this if COVID wouldn't have happened.

JAMIE WAX: City council member, Jay Banks, is Chairman of the Board of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, an iconic part of Mardi Gras parading.

JAY BANKS: It is New Orleans culture. We are the melting pot of the world. The cultures here are all blended. From French to Spanish to African, they all came here together and made this magic that we see today. And we have this wonderful gift to share. This is absolutely magical.

JAMIE WAX (VOICEOVER): And this is not the first time that magic and this city's resilience have been tested.

JAY BANKS: The first casualty of Katrina was normal. We knew when the storm hit, normal died first. So we needed to come back. And we led the way back home with that first Mardi Gras after Katrina.

[CROWD NOISES]

That was a much smaller parade, there were far fewer people, but it sent a message that hey, New Orleans is still here.

JAMIE WAX (VOICEOVER): Something the people of New Orleans prove time and time again.

JAY BANKS: This is not what we had hoped for or planned, but the reality of it is, again, it can cancel the way we practice our customs, but it can't cancel our customs. It'll just be different than what it's been in the past. So no, Mardi Gras is not dead. It's just different.

JAMIE WAX (VOICEOVER): For CBS This Morning Saturday, Jamie Wax, New Orleans.

- And this is only the second time that Mardi Gras parades have been canceled. The first was due to a police strike, and full disclosure, by my father-in-law. So what's interesting about this is that New Orleans always, as they said, always comes back, because they have so much to show and so much to shine through.

- Resilient.

- Resilient.