NEW ORLEANS - Overcast skies and the threat of rain couldn't dampen the revelry of Mardi Gras as parades took to the streets Tuesday, showering costumed merrymakers with trinkets of all kinds.
The parades began around dawn, led by clarinetist Pete Fountain and his Half-Fast Marching Club. Later, the Zulu krewe and the parade of Rex, King of Carnival, rolled down stately St. Charles Avenue to the business district.
Along the uptown parade route, some families camped out overnight to stake out choice spots to view parades.
Though crowds seemed a little thinner than normal, perhaps due to the weather, revelers were out in costume and eating and drinking themselves silly in the traditional last bash before Lent.
Many revelers in the French Quarter had drinks in hand before sunrise. Some donned costumes, tutus, beads and boas.
"We'll be in the French Quarter all day," said Bobbie Meir of Gretna, La., with feathers in her hair and fingernails painted purple. "The sights today are jaw-dropping. It's a ton of fun and the best party in the world. Nobody does Mardi Gras like we do."
On Bourbon Street, many women wore bustiers, fishnet stockings, bikini bottoms and little else.
"We're a flock of peacocks," said Laura Komarek, a recent New Orleans transplant from Minneapolis who moved to the Big Easy for a teaching job. Komarek and a group of friends were walking Bourbon Street wearing leotards and large colorful feathers on their bottoms.
Sipping a hand-grenade, one of Bourbon Street's signature cocktails, Komarek said this was her first Mardi Gras.
"This is a totally different experience than any other event I've ever been to in my life. I'm so happy, having a blast with my friends without a care in the world."
Costumes included spotted cows, bees, pirates and jesters. Many revelers were clad in purple, green and gold, the traditional colors of Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras also took on a Super Bowl flavor.
Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl stars Jacoby Jones and Ed Reed, both Louisiana natives, were aboard a Zulu float with retired NFL player-turned-broadcaster Warren Sapp. Reed was wearing a traditional Zulu grass skirt.
Nearby, three men identifying themselves as the "Superdome lighting crew" dressed in jump suits with home-made patches reading "Entergy" and name tags saying Larry, Shemp and Curly, referencing the comedy troupe The Three Stooges.
Peter Menge, 41, of New Orleans, said the power company was an easy target for lampooning after the 34-minute blackout during the Super Bowl. "The power just goes out here a lot," he said.
Brian Gibson, 45, lounged in a folding chair while his wife and two daughters ran to the float carrying the NFL players in hope of beads, stuffed animals or the prized coconuts that Zulu members give away.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu led the Zulu parade on horseback in a black shirt and jeans, flanked by mounted police officers.
Throughout the day, street bands and costumed revelers will be parading through the city's old quarter as big floats and marching bands parade on the major thoroughfares.
Following the Zulu and Rex parades would be hundreds of trucks decorated by families and social groups.
Fountain's Half-Fast Marching Club stepped off from a staging point in the Garden District just after dawn.
The famed clarinetist and his club mates were clad in garish red suits and feathered hats as they got ready to march.
Fountain no longer walks the route, which will take him to the French Quarter, but rides a truck-towed trolley. As he boarded, parade-goers snapped photos with camera phones.
Fountain wasn't worried about the forecast.
"This is my life," he said, referring to his 63rd parade with the group he founded. "We're going to make it before it rains."
Bob Johnson sipped on a screwdriver as he prepared to march with Fountain. "This is a half-healthy drink," he joked.
Johnson has done parades on floats and has been with Fountain's street marchers for six years. "It's a whole different perspective than riding a float. You can get right up to people," he said.
In the French Quarter, where the revelry almost didn't stop overnight, crowds were expected to cruise down Bourbon Street, pleading for beads from revelers on balconies before heading to Canal Street for the parades.
Traditionally, the French Quarter is the scene of Mardi Gras' raunchiest activities, while the streetcar line along St. Charles is given over to family groups who set up for a day of barbecues and parade watching.
Bryan Clark, 42, said it would take more than the threat of rain to break his family's tradition of camping near the place where the Zulu parade turns onto St. Charles Avenue. "We stay here rain sleet or snow," he said.
The New Orleans native said his parents hooked him on the Mardi Gras ritual and now he does it with his wife and children. "There is no other place in America you can do this," he said.
Rain or shine, it was parade-goers last chance during the Carnival season, which ends with the stroke of midnight Tuesday. After
that, the solemn season of Lent replaces the revelry until Easter.
Many revelers said they weren't going to let the weekend shooting on Bourbon Street wreck the party.
On Saturday night, four people were injured on the city's famed street. One man has been arrested and police said they have issued an arrest warrant for a second suspect. A third person who is believed to have critical information about the shooting is also being sought, police said.