NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Revelers bundled up in winter coats with the occasional glitzy costume filled the streets of New Orleans on Tuesday for the annual Mardi Gras bash, opening a day of partying, parades and good-natured jostling for beads and trinkets tossed from passing floats.

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Retired clarinetist Pete Fountain rode a mini float decked out as a streetcar as his Half-Fast Walking Club kicked off a day of parades on Fat Tuesday -- historically the day when cooking fats would be used up before the austerities of Lent.

The Rev. Byron Miller started Fountain's group on its way with a prayer, invoking "the God of laughter and love" as marchers set out on a miles-long trek after early morning rain cleared out, leaving many buttoning up amid temperatures in the 30s and 40s early in the day.

Celebrities and celebrity watchers are also around each Mardi Gras and this year was no exception.

The cast of the CBS crime drama "NCIS: New Orleans" got an early taste of the season on Monday, riding in the parade of Orpheus and tossing beads to revelers lining city streets before heading to an overnight ball. Their Mardi Gras episode airs Tuesday night at 8 p.m. CST.

Other celebrities joining in this year's revelry were comedian Ron White and country music star Dierks Bentley. Al Johnson, singer of the catchy Mardi Gras tune "Carnival Time," served as grand marshal of the Red Beans and Rice foot parade, another Monday prelude to the day.

Some got a jump on the day's celebrations by donning tuxedoes and evening gowns for elegant balls lasting into the early hours Tuesday. Ordinary folks took to dressing up. Friends Alexandra Sergutin and Ashley Dornier of New Orleans said donning elegant gowns for the Carnival balls is one of their favorite Mardi Gras activities.

"It feels good to be a part of that tradition. It really does. It touches your heart," said Sergutin, draped in colorful beads. " ... You're a part of something amazing and big."

áCelebrations also were scheduled throughout south Louisiana and in coastal Mississippi and Alabama, sharing the traditions brought by French Catholic colonists in the 18th century. In Louisiana's swampy bayou parishes, costumed riders on horseback go from farm to farm, collecting ingredients for a huge community gumbo.

Tuesday's main parades were Zulu and Rex, "king of Carnival," who wears a golden crown and carries a golden scepter. Rex features some of the season's most wildly fantastic floats. After Rex follow two "truck parades" -- hundreds of flatbed trailers topped by costumed riders, whether families, clubs or other social groups.

The parades wind down late Tuesday afternoon and outdoor celebrations cease at midnight, when the solemn Catholic season of Lent begins. New Orleans police ride horseback down the French Quarter's main tourist thoroughfare, Bourbon Street, to clear the last tipsy revelers as the party ends for another year.


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