Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler
The beads are ordered, the floats are painted, and the Krewe of Janus is ready
to roll. But first, it’s time to meet the King and the Queen.
article by Michael DeVault | photography by Martin G Meyers
The Louisville Avenue float barn is cold, but frigid temperatures haven’t deterred the dozens of volunteers who are working tirelessly to put on the biggest show in northeastern Louisiana. Readying the dozens of floats, ordering hundreds of pounds of beads and recruiting all of the sponsors and volunteers is a hard job. But every year since 1984, the men and women of the Krewe of Janus have undertaken this mammoth task in order to produce the annual Mardi Gras parade.
The time between Christmas and Mardi Gras is always a hectic one, but thanks to the eccentricities of the lunar calendar and an early Easter, 2016 provides an added challenge for the Krewe of Janus, which traditionally holds the Monroe celebration on the Saturday of the week before the New Orleans parades. That means this year’s parade will roll January 30. For Michael Brown and Lucy Holtzclaw, that means they’re in for the most hectic weeks of their lives as the pair reigns over the 2016 parade, Queen Janus XXXIII. For Brown, the parade also means a time for the area to show the rest of the world just what good times look like.
“It’s a way for Monroe to put something on a stage and say ‘Here’s what we can do,’ ” Brown said. A nurse practitioner at St. Francis Community Health Center, Brown’s schedule was already pretty busy. He certainly is surprised to be where he is, especially given his path to the throne. It all began three years ago, with a phone call from an old friend, Lynn LeBlanc, who sponsored him to join the crew.
“She was the first person I met when I moved to town in 1991,” he said. A student in NLU’s nursing program, Brown had come to Monroe from Arkansas. He’s been here ever since, enjoying the family life with his wife, Tara, and their two sons, Tyler and Davis. LeBlanc’s call came at just the right moment for Brown, who says he has a heart for service. “I’ve always been someone who likes to volunteer, and that’s why I joined, to do something for the community.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Holtzclaw, who not only operates a successful photography business in Sterlington, but who also serves on the Sterlington Town Council and as mayor pro tempore. For eight years, she’s volunteered with the Krewe of Janus and their many charitable activities. Before she was a member, though, her company, Holtzclaw Photography, was one of the krewe’s corporate members. “It’s a fun, celebratory time, but we also get to show our community what the krewe is all about, what it does in the community,” said Holtzclaw.
Aside from presiding over the 2016 Mardi Gras parade, their majesties undertake extensive public outreach on behalf of the organization, and they’ll appear at dozens of nursing homes and schools over the course of the year. “I think that’s going to be the really fun part,” said Holtzclaw. “I’m really looking forward to visiting the nursing homes and schools. I’m all about the kids!”
While most people think the king and queen only show up for the parade and a couple of media appearances, reigning is a year-long commitment. Not only are there school and nursing home visits, the king and queen are integral components of the krewe machinery, working throughout the year on outreach, fundraising and krewe management.
In addition, King and Queen Janus are frequently invited to reign over community Mardi Gras events, as they do every year at the ULM Mardi Gras Ball. Brown notes it’s a big commitment, but the time and energy are well worth it. “The whole process has been the fun part,” Brown said.
With just a few days before the official kickoff of their reign, King and Queen Janus XXXIII are busy putting the finishing touches on their regalia, the ceremonial outfits they’ll wear when appearing on behalf of the krewe. Bedazzlers beware, though, because Mardi Gras gowns and tunics take the bling to a whole new level. And those costumes will be unveiled–officially, at least–at the annual Krewe of Janus Mardi Gras Ball on Twelfth Night. Then, it’s off to the races–or to the parade, at least.
Twelfth Night, celebrated annually on Jan. 5, marks the twelfth and final night of the Christmas holiday celebration, which officially ends Jan. 6 with Epiphany. From there, King and Queen Janus XXXIII will make myriad stops around the community, appearing on television and radio, giving interviews and attending events, all the while preparing for the big day.
Once the floats are decorated, the beads all hung on pegs and the masks readied, the trucks rumble to life and the parade rolls. Making sure it all goes off without a hitch is the job of parade captains Steve Turner, Keith Joyner and Debbie Coplen. It’s their job to order the floats, supervise the lineup and ride the route to make sure everything keeps moving. Coplen understands the responsibility that comes with the job of staging a major tourist event.
“The Krewe of Janus parade is one of the top one-day events in northeast Louisiana,” Coplen said. “With that notoriety, it brings in hundreds and hundreds of people who come in to stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, all before the parade begins.”
The Monroe/West Monroe Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, one of the parade sponsors, frequently places the parade at the top of its list of events that draw visitors to the community. At the same time, locals spend more shop more, and that has a major impact on local businesses. “We bring a pretty big event and that helps our economy here in the Twin Cities,” Coplen said.
In a very real way, the parade is a community-wide event. Dozens of sponsors come together with volunteers, and the route runs throughout Monroe and West Monroe. Last year, the krewe restored part of the route to downtown Monroe, which was a resounding success. “We had quite a crowd down there,” Coplen said. “It was not quite New Orleans, but it had that type of atmosphere.”
A full map of the parade route is available on the Krewe of Janus website. The 33rd Annual Krewe of Janus Mardi Gras Parade rolls January 30, with the Children’s Parade and Pet Parade held earlier that morning. King and Queen Janus XXXIII are ready, and Coplen said she’s looking forward to a massive crowd shouting, “throw me something, mister!”