NEW ORLEANS – Gray skies don't slow the partying. Neither do a few rain drops.
A light rain Monday made the festivities leading up to Mardi Gras a little messier. The parade routes were muddy, but crowds made the best of the weather, pulling out umbrellas and rain jackets. But the show went on, as did the drinking, eating and shouts of "Happy Mardi Gras!"
"Rain? Who cares," said Tina Black, 30, of Los Angeles. "As long as it doesn't get cold. I have a really skimpy costume and I hate cold."
Black and thousands of others lined up to watch the Proteus and Orpheus lavish parades, headed by entertainer Harry Connick Jr. Fireworks filled the sky while strollers on Bourbon Street — beers in hand — tried to grab the strings of gold, green and purple beads tossed from the balconies above.
"This is it baby," said Paul Perrin, 22, of Dallas, from his lawn chair along the parade route on St. Charles Avenue. "You're either ready or you stay home. It's no place for the weak."
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is considered by many as New Orleans' biggest tourist event. Merchants and bartenders, however, said business was brisk in the French Quarter, though down from previous years.
At fault: the weather and the calendar — the annual pre-Lenten bash falls early this year.
"It's definitely off," said Fallon Daunhauer, a bartender at Johnny White's in the French Quarter for 21 years. "It's not the best weather and it's so early. Too close to Christmas, not close enough to spring break to get the college kids in."
Still, workers rushed to stock their shelves and clean up for the final time before Ash Wednesday. Piles of trash bags were hauled out of bars; cases of drinks were hauled in.
"We've got to get it done and get out of here before noon," said Phillip Ocburn of Crescent Crown Distributors. "After that forget it."
Earlier Monday, Beverly and Chester Lott munched beignets. The Mississippi couple had already seen five parades and what they called some fantastic street theater.
"We love it. It's the best time you can have anywhere," said Beverly Lott, sporting a huge orange wig. "We came for the first time last year, and plan to be back every year."
A daylong party was held on the banks of the Mississippi River with music and the landing of the faux royalty for the Zulu and Rex parades, the two biggest to roll Tuesday.
There were no reports of violence, one day after a man was shot along a parade route near the French Quarter. Police released little information about Sunday's shooting, however.
Last year, a 20-year-old New Orleans woman was shot and killed during a parade on St. Charles Avenue. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty against three teenage boys and a 20-year-old man indicted in the killing.