A hand-painted sign outside the H&R Bar read, “Established 1966,” but Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians had been going into the barroom at 2425 Dryades since he was a kid in the 1950s. Bo Dollis, Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias, recalled seeing Eddie Bo and Earl King perform here, along with a woman dressed in gold riding in a swing attached to the ceiling. This Central City hotspot became known as the headquarters of the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians, and “Second and Dryades” was a gathering place for nearly all Uptown tribes. Inside, the Wild Magnolias held “practices,” Sunday evening sessions of drumming and chanting in the months leading up to Mardi Gras.
Dollis’ powerful vocals caught the ear of a college student named Quint Davis, leading to the landmark 1970 recording “Handa Wanda,” a blistering piece of funk featuring Wilson “Willie “Tee” Turbinton on keys and Snooks Eaglin on guitar. The ensuing Wild Magnolias album, fusing Indian vocals and rhythms with electric instruments, became a Carnival classic and forged a bridge between Mardi Gras Indian culture and mainstream entertainment. In 1988, Mark Bingham recorded Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles in the H&R for a live album on Rounder called Lightning and Thunder. This record is stripped down to voices and percussion like an Indian practice, offering outsiders a taste of the Sunday ritual.
Unfortunately, the H&R Bar was destroyed by a four-alarm fire in 2001. Despite the loss, the corner of Second and Dryades is still a locus of Uptown Mardi Gras Indian activity (The Sportsman’s Corner, two doors down from the old H&R, is another neighborhood institution). Since Dollis passed away in 2015, his son, known as Bo Dollis Jr., has led the Wild Magnolias. Boudreaux, now an elder statesman of the tradition, still marches through this block every Mardi Gras Day and St. Joseph’s Night, to the delight of throngs of followers.
Tootie's Last Suit by Lisa Katzman, with Executive Producers Randy Fertel and Alexa Georges. Buy the DVD.