They operate as a type of walking momento mori-Latin for "remember that you must die." The motto for the krewe is "enjoy yourself; it's later than you think," so the common theme is intrinsic.
Skinz N Bonez is the skeleton-themed krewe that is the only female bone gang in New Orleans. There is a male counterpart to the group-the Soul Sweepers-but the original idea was to have a female-based drum krewe, which is what they are.
From the start, Skinz N Bonez has been a labor of love for the queen of the krewe, Mardiclaw. It all began as an idea stemming from Mid-Summer Mardi Gras in 2011 by Claudia Gehrke, who would soon don the moniker of Mardiclaw, and Big Chief John-then a Wildman-of the Original Wild Tchoupitoulas. John needed drummers on the st. for his gang, and Claudia offered to find some for him.
Soon thereafter, Mardiclaw approached Ronald Lewis from the House of Dance & Feathers-a cultural gatekeeper of sorts-to ask permission to proceed as a bone gang. He gave his blessing, but there were a few conditions: no feathers, no aprons, and they had to learn the cultural contexts thereof. With that, Mardiclaw had the blessing she had sought out, and the bone krewe she had originated with that offer to Big Chief John was unofficially official.
Although that was the beginning, the krewe has evolved and grown from there. Originally, as Mardiclaw remembers, during the "first meeting, no one had the confidence to drum or sing. In a circle doing 'Little Liza Jane,' Wildman John had us go round and round in a call and response until everyone came up with a line. We must have gone around at least 30 times. These days, it's all or nothing."
Skinz N Bonez has grown and does have some acclaim now. "I think we are received fairly well, but since we aren't a dance troupe, we get left out a lot," she lamented. Since they don't fit into a neat, nostalgic, or eclectic box like the popular dance troupes, including the Golddigger Babydolls, the Camel Toe Lady Steppers, the Laissez Boys, the Muff-A-Lottas, or the 610 Stompers, they sometimes don't get the attention they deserve because, as Mardiclaw proudly states, "We are a drum corps, and yet no one wants to recognize that. We are both krewe and corps, we meet twice a week, and we do paid gigs. Some people just don't want to recognize our accomplishments, but we are still here working really hard."
Despite the lack of accolades, Skinz N Bonez is a tightly knit group that has created its own community. That's one thing that Mardiclaw takes pride in. "The Krewe is the creativity that has come out of it," she recalled, beaming. "There are so many singers, musicians, and artists that are all working towards the goal of sharing
Tom Harvey, aka Rhythm N' Bonez, agrees. He states that the krewe has an "openness to all walks of life, [which] creates a micro-community."
In the group, too, everyone is allowed to express themselves-within a certain context. Mardiclaw confessed, "I think it's important that everyone is given an opportunity to grow-including meeting others and networking. I don't feel that anyone has to wear the same thing, as long as you're a skeleton."
This sense of everyone belonging to a group but also having an idiosyncratic identity is important to her. "Being an individual but in a krewe is a big thing for me," she mentioned. "I think it allows us to be unique among the many krewes who dress similarly."
Rhythm N' Bonez concurs with her. He states, "There's also a lot of creativity in this krewe-from costuming to creating our hand-made throws to overall musicianship."
Mardiclaw has made a vast array of memories throughout her time as queen of the krewe. She mentioned that they, as a group, have been involved in many of the Anne Rice balls and even a wedding this year. But she always finds Mardi Gras morning a special occasion because "each one is a little different, and waking people up is fun."
One other important aspect for Mardi Gras Day is when they pay their respects to those who have crossed over to the other side. She referred to it as asking those who have passed to "drum with [them]." On every "Mardi Gras morning, each person in the krewe takes a turn or two saying the names of those who passed the past year, and the krewe chimes in with, 'Drum with us,'" a sort of call and response for those who cannot answer any more,
imploring their spirits to take part in the ritualistic drumming.
She continued, "For instance, my friend Jason Woodson passed, so I said, 'Jason Woodson,' and the krewe followed with, 'Drum with us.' It's a way to bring forward those who came before us and honor them on Mardi Gras Day."
As for Rhythm N' Bonez, he has a lot of memories emblazoned in his mind. He said, "Going out and drumming for the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians on Super Sundays has been quite an honor.
We've also gone out with them on Saint Joseph's night and played with them at Jazz Fest several times. We've performed a few times for the Anne Rice Vampire Ball during Halloween season, and that was quite fun. This last Halloween night, we made a surprise appearance at the 'Skeleton House' up on State St. and did a little performance on the front steps for the people who live there and, of course, for all the trick-or-treaters as
well. It was a magic moment. Pretty much every parade has its memorable moments that I'll cherish always."
Even though they are indeed a bone krewe, and they are indeed busy during October and Halloween-for obvious reasons-they are also very active during Mardi Gras season. Last year, they rolled with the Muses and Femme Fatale parades, and this year promises to be just as lively. When camped out at your favorite spot on the parade route, keep an ear out for the telltale sounds of the Skinz N Bonez drum krewe, and watch out for their signature, hand-made skeleton Barbie throws.
Header image courtesy of Kim Welsh, all other photos courtesy of Donald Rickert