BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - From the pomp and circumstance of the early years to the new brand of revelry on display today, the Krewe of Neptune’s focus has always been and remains on the people of South Mississippi.
It should be noted that the author of this story is an officer with the Krewe of Neptune and has been for the last five years. With that being said, long before glitzy costumes paraded down the aisle and outrageous floats became the norm for the Krewe of Neptune, one local flower shop owner had an idea.
“You had a guy, of course, there were 150 charter members, but you had a gentleman, Kenny Fournier, who had a vision of what Mardi Gras should be like. He wanted to take from all of the other areas and bring it here," said Krewe President, Gerald Everett.
Tommy Esposito, Jr. is King Neptune the 12th and a former Captain. He’s been a member since 1986, only the 5th year of the krewe’s organization.
“In the early days when it was brought to Biloxi, it up the game with Mardi Gras. It brought a new experience. It was strictly patterned after the old-line krewes in New Orleans. Now, there is still some of that embedded but the new officers have kicked it up a notch and made it more along today’s times," said Esposito.
Kicking it up a notch didn’t happen overnight. As a matter of fact, it didn’t happen in a few years.
Neptune was rolling with outstanding attendance at both the coronation ball and parade when the unthinkable of things happened.
“After Katrina, it fell apart," said Everett. “A group of guys decided ‘Hey, we have to get everything on this coast back to normal, including Mardi Gras. What is now 350 men, at the time, was about 12,’” Everett said.
The work of rebuilding what has become one of South Mississippi’s largest Mardi Gras krewes was undertaken, like most organizations similar to Neptune, by volunteers who already had full-time jobs.
The leadership of the krewe consists of five officers, three members of the board of directors, three chairmen, six line lieutenants and 6 assistant lieutenants.
“I think you call a job, a job, for a reason and you do get paid for that but this is just lagniappe for us. We have more fun doing this, just the camaraderie amongst the guys, you know. We definitely get a little testy at times, especially this time of year, with each other. But, it all smooths back out," Everett told WLOX.
With a golden opportunity to rebrand something that was popular before, in hopes to make it bigger and better than ever, it was a daunting task. So getting back to basics was the most important thing.
Everett said that it was all reborn based on three simple principles.
“You had to have, first, good parties. You have to have stuff that people want to attend, not feel like it was a social obligation to show up. Floats. Neptune has always been known for floats and we had to go as over the top as we could. The final thing was good throws. Everyone knows a bead they want to catch versus a bead they drop. So, we made sure that the throws that we were going to have were second to none," said Everett.
With more than a dozen parties (both public and private), a half dozen charity events, a coronation ball and a parade, the leadership of the krewe oftentimes works year-round to accomplish the work.
Parties, coronation balls and parades aren’t the only events thrown by the krewe.
“We created the Trident Foundation. We felt like it was our responsibility to make sure that we gave back as much as we could to those in need. We’re proud to say we’ve given back a couple hundred thousand dollars in donations over the last five or six years now. What became a golf tournament, a poker run, a pub crawl or a benefit 5k... you take the fun of Neptune and you tie it into charity work and now you have events that everyone wants to come to," said Everett.
Community engagement is a large part of what the krewe does. It is near and dear to the leadership and the members alike.
The work that Neptune does to include not only their leadership and members but the Gulf Coast community makes this Mardi Gras krewe South Mississippi Strong.
“Really it’s for all of South Mississippi to enjoy because we wanted to bring back something that was near and dear to our hearts and we knew that many others wanted to see it as well. We’re proud that we’ve been able to give something and do something for the Gulf Coast that we all can enjoy and be proud of," Everett said.
The Krewe of Neptune Parade will roll through the streets of Biloxi this Saturday, also known as #NeptuneSaturday, starting at 5:30 p.m. The Grand Marshal will be the Ying Yang Twins, who will also headline the parade after-party, Neptunalia, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino following the parade.