Thousands of tourists, gay and straight, are descending on New Orleans this weekend for the annual Southern Decadence Festival, which organizers says is “one of the gay world’s major annual events.”
In the almost four decades since it started, Southern Decadence has become a traditional Labor Day weekend, end-of-summer, event. But for two of the last four years, hurricanes crashed the French Quarter-centered party. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Gustav last year both generated evacuation orders for the city and brought the festivities to a screeching halt.
The event started as a birthday party bar crawl with about a dozen New Orleans residents making the French Quarter circuit, according to Jonathan Bray, one of the organizers of Southern Decadence, and has grown to be one of the biggest gay events in the country, attracting about 100,000 people in the past, and a welcome economic boost for French Quarter merchants during one of the slowest tourist periods.
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“It’s a crowd with disposable income and they enjoy themselves,” said Mary Beth Romig of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And it’s a very loyal group. They come back year after year.”
People started arriving on Wednesday and most stay until Tuesday, enjoying such events as talent contests, dance parties, and free outdoor concerts.
The celebration runs through the Labor Day weekend.