I still can't believe what an incredible four days we had. On February 8, 1997, my sister, Catherine, and I left Salt Lake City, Utah filled with anticipation for the excitement ahead. As guests of the Harry Connick Jr., Fan Club, we were going to Mardi Gras, "the greatest party on Earth"! Unbeknownst to the fan club, Jon flew out and was able to join us for most of the events. He didn't ride on the float during the parade, but I think he walked almost the entire route, taking pictures of us!
Upon our arrival in New Orleans, a driver was waiting to take us to our hotel. We were impressed with our accommodations at the Hotel Inter-Continental, located on St. Charles Avenue, overlooking the parade route. The lobby was bustling with people, all wearing colorful Mardi Gras beads. Anxious to get out and explore (and get our own beads!), we headed off to a quick dinner then watched the Endymion Parade. To end the day, we spent a relaxing hour in the hotel lounge listening to a great jazz band.
Sunday we toured downtown New Orleans and the French Market, where we fell in love with Jambalaya and sampled Beignets, a French pastry, at Cafe du Monde. After spending an exciting afternoon on Bourbon Street, we returned to our hotel and learned we had been invited to a party at author Anne Rice's house to watch the Bacchus Parade! At the party, we had the opportunity to meet actress Delta Burke, film director Francis Ford Coppolla, and Kevin Griffin, the lead singer of Better Than Ezra. We missed meeting Harry at the party by just a few minutes!
Monday arrived, the day of the Orpheus parade! Catherine and I were both excited and nervous - we were going to meet Harry today! We met with Harry's assistant, Kathy, and drove to the Convention Center, where we were shown our dressing room and told we would be riding on the very same float as Harry Connick, Sr.! We then had the pleasure of meeting Harry's step-mom, aunt and cousins. After having lunch with Kathy, who introduced us to Tracey Freeman, Harry's producer, we returned to our dressing room to get into costume. On our way to the float, we were honored to meet Harry Connick, Sr., who could not have been more gracious or attentive.
Once aboard the float, our fellow float riders, good friends of the Connick, Srs., proceeded to "show us the ropes" - they helped us set up our "throws" (beads), made sure we understood parade protocol (e.g., no unmasking once the parade begins), then recounted a few anecdotes about Harry, Jr. They made us feel so welcome and kept us laughing during the two hour ride to the parade starting point.
The parade route began at the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Napolean, the site of the legendary music club Tipitina's. Harry, Sr. escorted Catherine and I into the bar, giving us a brief history of the many musicians who have played there, including Harry, Jr.
Finally, the moment I had only dreamed about arrived. It is difficult to describe the range of emotions I felt as we followed Harry, Sr. to Harry Jr.'s float. In a word... YEEEOOOOW! Dressed in an elaborate costume, Harry, Jr. greeted us with that charming smile and genuine kindness. We chatted for a minute, posed for a picture, then returned to our float (hearts racing) as the parade got underway.
The parade itself was an intense four hours of throwing beads to screaming parade-goers and taking every opportunity to peek behind us, hoping to catch a glimpse of Harry, Jr. whose float was behind ours. At midnight, we arrived back at the Convention Center, where the Orpheuscapade Ball was underway! As Catherine and I approached our table, we froze - we could not believe with whom we were seated. We checked and re-checked our VIP pass, and yep! It was true - we were sitting with Stevie Wonder! And if that were not a total honor in itself, Quincy Jones was seated at a table to our right, the group Better Than Ezra was seated in front of us, and the Connick, Srs. were to our left! In this elite company, we enjoyed Harry, Jr.'s performance, including a song he performed with Stevie Wonder. The Ball ended at 3am, and the magical day had drawn to a close.
A simple thank you does not seem enough to express the gratitude which Catherine and I feel toward the Fan Club and everyone we met during this incredible time. We were treated with such hospitality and warmth by all, and we will never forget it. It was a true honor to celebrate Mardi Gras in "the city beneath the sea" with Harry, his family, his friends and his associates.
A totally fun trip and a one of a kind experience!
Happy Mardi Gras, 2012, everyone! Laissez les bons temps rouler!