For New Orleanians, the first real bite of July heat marks the beginning of the “dog days of summer” in much the same way as in ancient Rome “dog days” were marked by the ascension of Sirius, one of the brightest stars in the night sky.
But on Saturday, New Orleans will welcome the appearance of a fast-moving constellation of stars of a different kind as the city celebrates the 11th San Fermin en Nueva Orleans festival.
This unique twist on the centuries-old Spanish spectacle of El Encierro, or the Running of the Bulls, features, among other things, hundreds of glitter-horned, baseball-bat-brandishing roller derby girls chasing eager victims along a mile-long track that starts and ends at The Sugar Mill, 1021 Convention Blvd.
El Encierro is at the core of the week-long San Fermin festival in Spain for which the festival is named. Falling every year between July 6 and July 14 in Pamplona, a small city in Navarre, the sight of fierce bulls chasing fleeing men along the city’s narrow cobblestone streets not only draws thousands of visitors each year but was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in his novels "The Sun Also Rises" and "Death in the Afternoon."
San Fermin en Nueva Orleans is set to coincide each year with Pamplona’s encierro and stretches over a full weekend packed with live music, parties, food, drink, an Ernest Hemingway lookalike competition, a challenging but strangely irresistible mechanical bull, the inimitable Rolling Elvi, local marching krewes, and a dunk tank for cooling off.
But the festival’s brightest event arguably remains the Running of the Bulls, starring the Big Easy Roller Girls.
Kicking off the festival on Friday is El Txupinazo, a pre-party hosted by cancer charity Beth’s Friends Forever and held this year at Seven Three Distilling Co., a new distillery that opened in February on North Claiborne Avenue. Other events throughout the city include Fiesta de Pantalones on Saturday and El Pobre de Mi (Poor Me), a party featuring live music and the Hemingway lookalike contest, on Sunday.
The seeds of what was to become San Fermin en Nueva Orleans were planted in the mind of founder Mickey Hanning during a trip to Spain when he took part in Pamplona’s encierro. Hanning describes the experience as “surreal.”
“I can still play it in my mind,” he laughed. “I was kind of watching it from above. It was two hours of anxiety, then all over in two minutes. I hid behind as many people as I could.”
Since its modest beginnings in 2007, the Running of the Bulls has grown from approximately 13 roller derby bulls chasing 150 runners to hundreds of “skater-bulls,” from the U.S. and abroad, chasing anywhere between 15,000 and 19,000 runners.
It's the sixth run for Canadian Tara Pledge, also known as "Scooby Doom."
“You just can’t not love New Orleans,” said Pledge, who is a member of Hammer City Roller Derby, a not-for-profit flat track league from Ontario. “I have been all over the U.S. and Canada and the people down here are just amazing. Where else can you skate around and hit 15,000 people on the ass with a bat?”
According to Pledge, one of the biggest challenges from an out-of-towner skater-bull’s perspective isn’t the summer heat, the number of people or even the somewhat slippery nature of New Orleans’ notoriously pot-holed streets.
“Do you know how hard it is to find a sequined onesie in Ontario?” Pledge exclaimed. “It took me more than two years to find a tutu!”
For Jewel "Cat O'Lust" Vegas, 2017 is her fourth year chasing "bulls" and her first year with the BERG.
“When they open the bullpen, the rush of adrenaline is amazing,” said Vegas. “We are not out to hurt anybody — it’s a fun, family friendly event and there are lots of kids there — but if runners taunt us, we sometimes give them a little bit more love when we hit them. Personally, those are my favorites.”
More information about San Fermin en Nueva Orleans is available at nolabulls.com.
SAN FERMIN EN NUEVA ORLEANS
Friday, July 7
Pronounced choo-pin-AHT-so, it's the official kickoff party for San Fermin in Nueva Orleans.
Hosted by Beth’s Friends Forever at the Seven Three Distillery at 301 N. Claiborne Ave. Tickets are $75 and include open bar, live music from Vivaz! Latin Band, and food from several local restaurants. Opportunity to participate in a silent auction. ThHe live auction grand prize is a Lifetime VIP pass for all future of San Fermin in Nueva Orleans events.
Saturday, July 8
El Encierro: The Running of the Bulls
7:15 a.m. Procession of San Fermin
8 a.m. The run is followed by the after-party with live entertainment featuring The Zydepunks and DJ RQaway. Food, drinks and Roller Bulls. Ticketed event.
La Fiesta de Pantalones
Free, The Rusty Nail, 1100 Constance St.
Sunday, July 9
Pobre de Mi (Poor Me)
Free event. Doors open at 11 a.m. at Barcardia, 604 Tchoupitoulas St. Performances from Roxie le Rouge and Big Deal Burlesque and comedian Katie East as well as the annual Ernest Hemingway lookalike competition.