NEW ORLEANS – Pete Fountain, clarinet in hand and looking dapper in a white tuxedo and fedora trimmed in gold, kicked off Mardi Gras with his "Half Fast Marching Club" the way they have for 50 years: with beads and jazz.
Fountain, 79, has marched every year except 2006, the year after Hurricane Katrina hit, when he had bypass surgery.
"We're slower than we were, and older than we were," Fountain said with a laugh. "But on Mardi Gras none of it matters."
Tuesday, the final day of Carnival, was sunny and cold with high temperatures expected to hang around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius).
"I have plenty of antifreeze with me if I need it," said Jessie Grace, 57, playfully waving a flask from his pocket. "If Mardi Gras doesn't warm you up, nothing will."
Grace and about 30 family members and friends staked out their spot on St. Charles Avenue at 2 a.m., setting up chairs and tables. By 7 a.m. gumbo was cooking in a big pot and ribs were on the barbecue grill.
A week after the parade celebrating the New Orleans Saints' first NFL football Super Bowl victory, the joy of that win fed right into the Mardi Gras.
Many of those along the parade route wore Saints jerseys. One group of cyclists were costumed as flying pigs, which long-suffering fans had always said they would see if the Saints won the big game.
"Hell froze over," said Sandra Bell, 51, shivering under a blanket. "Can't you feel it?"
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, coach Sean Payton and owner Tom Benson served as monarchs of parades and more players rode with the Krewe of Zulu.
"It's a big, big deal," said Glynn Brown, 55, who said he had taken out a second mortgage to pay for the Saints gear he and his family were decked out in. "But Mardi Gras is our heritage."
Crowds were bigger than normal for all the parades during the week and again on Tuesday as the colorful floats, laden with costumed riders passed by.