Chewbacchus parade 2017: Route to change as nerds expand sideways

The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus parade, which takes place Feb. 18, 2017, will be eliminating some of the narrower streets along its route, according to krewe captain Ryan Ballard. Last years' walking parade was unexpectedly long, in part because the crowd-sandwiched streets of the Marigny and Bywater caused paraders to follow one another in what sometimes became a single file procession, Ballard said.

A wider path will also allow more breathing room for the motorized art cars that became part of the spectacle last year.

If all goes as planned, the 2017 parade will line up on Press Street and follow St. Peter Street to Frenchmen Street as usual. Last year, the already attenuated parade hung a right on narrow Dauphine Street. But in 2017, the parade will stay on Frenchmen Street all the way to spacious St. Claude Avenue, where it will turn downriver and proceed straight to the krewe den near Poland Avenue, sans bottlenecks.

Adding breadth to the last major part of the route will presumably allow several paraders to walk abreast, thereby shortening the parade in the long run.

Or, as Ballard put it, "the wider streets can accommodate the nerds expanding sidewise."

The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus rolled through the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater on Saturday, January 30, 2016 in New Orleans. {Photo by Chris Granger, | The Times-Picayune)

The expanding nerds Ballard mentioned are the more or less 1,500 science fiction enthusiasts who paid $42 to march in the chaotic mobile costume party last year. He expects the number of marchers could reach between 2,000 and 3,000 in 2017.

Secret Men In Black-style parade monitors will survey the progress of the procession at each intersection, Ballard said, to enhance communication during the roll. The monitors will be briefcase-carrying club members dressed in black jackets, ties and shades. Parade goers may never notice the monitors, Ballard said, or they may very well forget all about them afterwards.

In case you're new to town, the Chewbacchus Mardi Gras club was named for both the Roman God of wine Bacchus (who already had a major Uptown parade named after him) and the furry "Star Wars" sidekick Chewbacca (who didn't).

There are as many as 200 mini-clubs within the greater Chewbacchus organization, representing everything from "Doctor Who" to "Lost in Space" to, of course, all aspects of "Star Wars." The theme of the 2017 parade is the "The Revel Alliance."

Since its founding in 2010, the all-inclusive, inexpensive, individualistic, do-it-yourself Chewbacchus parade has become a phenomenon. Who could have predicted the deliberately ridiculous faux futuristic ramble would become so important a part of the actual future of Carnival?

On more than one occasion, Peter Mayhew, the tall, affable actor who played the original Chewbacca has accompanied the New Orleans rabble. But Ballard says that at this juncture he must remain mute about naming celebrities who may join the parade this year.

But enough about mystery celebs, unpredictable post-Katrina social implications, disappearing parade monitors and sideward expanding nerds: It's time to discuss the Grateful Dead.

The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus rolled through the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater on Saturday, January 30, 2016 in New Orleans. {Photo by Chris Granger, | The Times-Picayune)

Ballard said members of Chewbacchus have taken the cult of the Sacred Drunken Wookiee (as they describe themselves) on the road in the recent past, to the Burning Man festival in Nevada and Bonnaroo in Tennessee.

To facilitate future travel, Ballard said the club has acquired an old but road-worthy camper that members plan to decorate with a giant Wookiee head on the bow and a psychedelic paint job a la Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters' legendary bus. To bring this historic allusion into clearer focus, read Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."

The rainbow Wookiee bus will appear in the 2017 parade. But there's more.

Since the much-beloved bygone San Francisco rock band the Grateful Dead were Kesey compatriots, Ballard plans to add a combination of a Grateful Dead lightening bold skull and Chewbacca portrait to the club's array of signature logos in 2017.

That's the way Chewbacchus seems to work; one thing just logically leads to another.