Halloween Month Festivities

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October is my favorite month, because in New Orleans Halloween lasts the whole month. Houses are decked out with skeletons and ghouls from October 1st, and each weekend hosts some sort of costume themed ball or festival.

This year I attended the Mermaids and Mayhem Ball at Feret Street Publiq House the weekend before Halloween. You may be forgiven for mistakenly believing that attendees must be dressed as a mermaid or some interpretation of mayhem. New Orlineans generally interpret dress codes quite loosely – the only tightly held rule is that when its a costume party, you must be in a costume. One of my party, evidently not a New Orlinean, showed up in just jeans and a t-shirt. Fortunately, I was able to twist his t-shirt into a crop top, put some bright pink lipstick on his lips and a few lipstick marks on his stomach which made for a vaguely passable costume.

And of course, what is any celebration in New Orleans without a parade?! Krewe of Boo rolled on October 30th through the French Quarter.

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Halloween fell on a Friday night this year. There was a multitude of events to choose from for the night. To name but a few: a True Detective themed house party, there was a Zombie Ball featuring Gabriel & Dresden, Galactic playing at Tipitina’s, and the Endless Night Vampire Ball at House of Blues, and the Vampire Lestat Fan Club’s annual Vampire Ball which was attended by Anne Rice this year (which I promise myself I will go to every year…next year, next year!).

Having a group of friends who had never experienced Halloween in New Orleans before, however, meant there was only one choice for us: Frenchmen Street. It becomes one big spectacular street party.

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I wish I could give you more details about how the party went down this year, but alas I was too inebriated and remember very little. All I can say is that I woke up in my own bed, still in full Ginger Spice Zombie costume, with a bag safely containing not only my wallet and phone but also those of a number of friends, and a bruise on one knee and a graze on the other, and a few rather interesting texts and photos on my phone. There might have been a few hiccoughs along the way, but I think I had a good night – I only have good memories of it!

The weekend of Halloween is also host to a three day music festival: Voodoo Fest. I attended on Sunday, and had the pleasure of seeing John Butler Trio (a taste of ‘home’!), Trombone Shorty (finally playing back home!) and the awesomeness that is the Foo Fighters. At one point during their set, Dave Grohl invited Trombone Shorty on to the stage to play with them, and just as I was thinking ‘this is a moment I will never forget’, Dave Grohl said those exact words. This was definitely a Halloween I will remember forever.

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Angola Rodeo

Every Sunday in the month of October, and one weekend in April, Louisiana State Penitentiary opens its gates to the public to attend the Angola Rodeo and Hobby Crafts Fair. The inmates and professionals are involved in the Rodeo itself which consists of the usual events like barrel racing and bull riding, but also events like “convict poker” and “guts and glory”.

Convict poker involves four inmates sitting at a table in the center of the arena, pretending to play poker while a wild bull is released and charges straight at them. The winner is the last man still seated at the table. In guts and glory a poker chip is tied to the meanest bull – the winner is the one who gets the chip. The Angola Rodeo website describes the latter event as “perhaps the most exciting” of the rodeo.

All these poker references and anyone might deduce Burl Cain is a gambling man.

Convict Poker

In general, I am opposed to Rodeos. Too often they involve animal cruelty. In particular, I am opposed to a rodeo in which inmates are in essence forced to risk their lives, knowing that they will almost definitely need medical care and receive only mediocre attention. Although involvement in the rodeo is technically on a voluntary basis, for most of these men who are serving life sentences and receive less than minimal wage for slaving in the plantation fields every day, there seems to be little choice available.

I recently read a book about Burl Cain – God of the Rodeo – which follows the lives of a number of inmates, some of which were involved in the rodeo, over a year’s period. It did little to endear to me a man against whom I am already naturally biased. I would highly recommend reading it; it came across as an honest and objective observation of a warped world.

That being said, I make an effort to attend the event when I can in order to peruse the crafts fair. Inmates are given the opportunity to sell items they have made to the public, and their families get a chance to spend some quality time with them without the closely watchful eyes of guards and restrictive time limits. The crafts range from paintings and jewelry to handbags, rocking chairs and grills. The quality of pieces also ranges from poor to impressive – the former likely only an excuse to mingle with the public.