Published February 19, 2007
NEW ORLEANS – He was king for the day, and actor James Gandolfini ruled with a doubloon-filled fist, pleasing the revelers who stood in chilly temperatures for one of the highlights of Carnival — the rolling of the Krewe of Bacchus parade.
Sunday evening's parade outshone the stars in the clear sky, as brightly-lit, double-decker floats, torch carriers and machines that danced light off the oak trees along Napoleon Avenue captured the crowds attention.
In the midst of it were "The Sopranos" star Gandolfini and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose passage on separate, elaborate floats elicited cheers and chants of "To-ny!" and "Dreeeehttp://www!"
"I'm a Saints fan and a 'Sopranos' fan," Allen Guthrie, 36, said after the float carrying Brees passed. "So it's a double-double this year with Bacchus."
Gandolfini was a hit even before the parade began, mugging for pictures and signing autographs for fans gathered outside a bar.
Wearing a black derby hat, a white tunic over white tights and black knee-high boots, he threw doubloons — commemorative coins bearing his picture — to giddy spectators by the fistful.
The parade was one of several to roll through New Orleans on Sunday, and more were planned in the lead up to Fat Tuesday. Among those set for Monday: the Krewe of Orpheus, whose founders include singer and hometown boy Harry Connick Jr.
Each float Sunday prompted parade-goers, young and old, to wave their arms in the long-standing Carnival tradition and yell, "Heeeeey!" in an effort to get a riders' attention — and his or her beads.
Local officials see Mardi Gras as key to helping improve New Orleans' image following Hurricane Katrina and boost tourism in a city that relies heavily on the tourist trade. The signs of the 2005 storm are still obvious in parts of the city but largely unnoticeable to those who stay in the French Quarter and central business district.
One concern going into Carnival had been a rash of violent crime in recent months. After the end of the Bacchus parade about 10 p.m., a 15-year-old boy from the New Orleans suburb of Westwego was shot in the chest, said Sgt. Joe Narcisse, a police spokesman. He was in stable condition Monday morning, police said. Narcisse said police believe the youth was the victim of a targeted attack. No arrests were reported.
Until the shooting, officers were primarily busy with people being drunk in public or disturbing the peace, police said.
Chilly, breezy weather did little to deter Carnival revelers.
"Got some fire kicking," said Bryan Young, as he hunched over a grill along Napoleon Avenue, a main parade route, cooking hamburgers and sausages in the 40-something-degree weather.
Michael and Missy Flynn brought relatives from Baltimore to watch the parades and found a place around 8 a.m. They said they were impressed with others who marked their territory by camping out overnight.
Michael Flynn, who said he had a table at home filled with beads, cups and other collectibles from Carnival, said he was having a blast: "I just love the shiny floats."