Let the good times roll at these free festivals, events leading up to Mardi Gras

NEW ORLEANS (NOLA WEEKEND) - We’re in the final stretch of Carnival, and there are several other major festivities surrounding parades. Many of them are free and open to the public to attend. Here’s a list of major festival-like events leading up to Mardi Gras.

Greasing of the Poles

Actor Bryan Batt serves as the master of ceremonies for the Royal Sonesta’s 53rd annual Greasing of the Poles on Friday, Feb. 17.

The 2023 theme is “Grease Like a Royal” for the one-of-kind Carnival tradition considered to be the French Quarter’s official kickoff to Mardi Gras season.

The event features Carnival royalty from the Mardi Gras Indians, Krewe of Zulu, Krewe of Bacchus and the Krewe of NOMTOC. Other elements include performances of Mardi Gras classics by Leroy Jones and the Original Hurricane Brass Band and appearances by the Merry Antoinettes and 2022 Greasing of the Poles Champion Greg Kata, aka @Gregisms. WVUE-TV Fox 8 Morning Addition anchor Kelsey Davis will serve as one of this year’s judges.

Royal Sonesta New Orleans originated the ritual of greasing the building’s support poles to deter overzealous revelers from climbing up to the coveted balcony space. The event starts at 10 a.m. The Royal Sonesta New Orleans is located at 300 Bourbon Street.

Samedi Gras

Samedi Gras serves as the Endymion pre-parade block party ahead of the superkrewe’s Mid-City trek on Saturday, Feb. 18.

Beginning at noon on parade day, Samedi Gras draws thousands of revelers from Mid-City neighborhoods to help kick off Endymion. Local bands typically hit the stage on the Orleans Avenue neutral ground. The captain and riding celebrities arrive around 3 p.m. to address the crowds, and the Endymion Parade begins shortly after around 4:15 p.m.

Bacchus Bash

Bag of Donuts, Mannie Fresh, Bucktown Allstars, The Topcats and Category 6 are among the acts performing at this year’s Bacchus Bash 2023 at Generations Hall on Sunday, Feb. 19.

Now in its 39th year, the huge Warehouse District party takes place the Sunday before Fat Tuesday and has become one of New Orleans’ largest Mardi Gras traditions. The free, annual 14-hour block party preceding the renowned Bacchus parade kicks off at noon.

Here’s the full schedule for 2023 Bacchus Bash, with DJs will performing between live music acts:

  • 12:30 p.m. - 2 p.m. – Category 6
  • 2:30 p.m. - 4 p.m. – Bucktown Allstars
  • 4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m. – Topcats
  • 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. – Bag of Donuts

The outdoor/indoor block party is free and open to the public, but VIP tickets are available. Anyone interested in purchasing VIP tickets should visit TheMetroNOLA.com or GenerationsHall.com.

Zulu Lundi Gras Festival

The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club hosts its annual Lundi Gras celebration at Woldenberg Park on Monday, Feb. 20.

This year’s music lineup includes Kermit Ruffins, the Brass-A-Holics, Bruce “Sunpie” Barned and the Louisiana Sunspots and DJ Jubilee, among others. In addition to three stages, the event includes introductions of Zulu royalty and elected characters. More than 20 food vendors are also on hand for festival-goers.

The festival is free and open to the public and runs from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Visit lundigrasfestival.com for details.

Lundi Gras at Spanish Plaza

The Riverwalk Lundi Gras celebration marks a New Orleans tradition of the arrival of Rex and greeting with King Zulu at Spanish Plaza on Monday, Feb. 20.

The event features live music from the Grammy-nominated Zydeco Band Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, GoGo brass/funk band Brass-A-Holics and funk-rock Band Flow Tribe.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell will take the stage to hand over the keys of the city to Rex, who declares Fat Tuesday a day of fun and revelry for all. The ceremony is then followed by an extravagant firework display over the River, prior to Monday night parades rolling through downtown New Orleans.

The event runs from noon to 6:30 p.m. Visit riverwalkneworleans.com for information.

Bourbon Street Awards

The annual Bourbon Street Awards brings out elaborate costumes each year in the 800 block of Bourbon Street near St. Ann Street in the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday.

For more than five decades, this annual event has been called “the most famous drag-queen contest in America.” Hundreds of people compete for top honors with their flamboyant costumes in categories such as “Best Drag,” “Best Leather,” “Best Group” and “Best of Show.”

Festivities kick off at noon.

Show us your Carnival spirit! Submit your pics here, and your photos could end up on FOX 8 News. This story is part of our “How Do You Mardi Gras?” series sponsored by Breaux Mart.

Shan Bailey

Shan Bailey

Shan Bailey is the digital content producer and on-air personality for FOX 8 Nola Weekend. Shan is a creative storyteller who is passionate about creating compelling content that connects with audiences.