In New Orleans, we celebrate nearly every occasion with a second-line parade, some publicly — business openings, Carnival balls, the 200th anniversary of the Treme neighborhood — and some privately, such as funerals for loved ones.
Second lines also are part of the city's wedding tradition. The wedding second line celebrates the newlyweds as they embark on a new life together. The main line leading the parade for a wedding is made up of the married couple, the brass band and usually a grand marshal. The second line is the wedding party and any passersby who want to join the celebration.
"To be at the front of the line with the band is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Cherish every single moment of it," says Sonia Savio, a local wedding photographer who was married in New Orleans in November 2014.
"You are the music, you are the city, you are the spectacle," Savio says. "It was awesome — a singular and incredible experience that will be a favorite memory of ours, not just of the wedding, but of our lifetimes."
All second lines stem from the African-American tradition of second-lining for private funerals, where brass bands play dirges to accompany the hearse and mourners to the cemetery. After the body's interment, the band plays celebratory songs in honor of the life of the deceased.
On many Sundays during the year, social aid and pleasure clubs hold celebratory second lines, dancing in the streets and making stops at bars and clubs along the routes.
Regardless of the occasion, all second-line street parades require permission and planning. What follows is a how-to guide with specific steps and expert advice for planning wedding second lines.
Step 1: Decide on the date and parade route for your wedding second line.
Usually the location of the ceremony and reception will dictate the route. Many couples hold their celebrations immediately after the ceremony, second-lining from the wedding venue to the reception venue. If the wedding and reception are located in the same space, the second line gives the vendors and event planners time to flip the room for the reception.
A wedding second line also can be held after a rehearsal dinner or at the end of the reception. Couples often incorporate a stop at a sentimental location into their second lines — the restaurant of their first date or the site of their engagement, for example. When hiring photographers and videographers for your wedding, ask if they have experience capturing second lines.
Chartered streetcars also can be decorated for the transfer of wedding parties from event spaces along St. Charles Avenue, complete with brass band accompaniment.
Step 2: Obtain a parade permit and hire police escorts.
"Obtaining a permit and police escorts are the first things to be done when planning a second line, followed by booking a brass band and a grand marshal and acquiring second-line accessories (i.e. umbrellas, second-line hankies, koozies, custom plastic cups, beads, etc.) and any other elements you may want to incorporate," according to event planner Mary Spera.
Visit www.nola.gov/one-stop/events/parades/parade-race-permit to download the Supplement C-Parade form and submit forms and fees at least 15 days in advance to One Stop Shop, City Hall, Seventh floor, 1300 Perdido St., New Orleans, LA 70112.
"The permit itself costs $50.25 (paid to the City of New Orleans)," Spera says. "A police escort is $100 per officer, plus a one-time $25 fee paid to the Police and Justice Foundation. The size of the group determines the number of officers, but typically two motorcycle police officers and one car can cover a wedding second line."
If your wedding party throws anything (cups, beads, rice, confetti) you must pay an additional fee to City Sanitation.
STEP 3: Select a brass band.
"Many people search the Internet for brass bands," says Amanda Thompson, booking coordinator for Kinfolk Brass Band "There is a handful of bands in New Orleans who have established themselves as being professional, reliable and authentic. My recommendation is to go with a band that has a reputation for being the best. Check out the reviews and do your research before hiring someone you don't know."
Websites such as TheKnot.com and GigSalad.com can help with reviewing and booking bands. If you have a favorite local band, contact members to see if they play weddings and second lines and are available to play on that date.
The Storyville Stompers, Kinfolk Brass Band, Egg Yolk Jubilee, the Essentials and Lagniappe Brass Band, just to name a few, are available for wedding parties and second lines.
STEP 4: Acquire umbrellas, handkerchiefs & other accoutrements to personalize your second line.
During a second line, the married couple dance with fancy umbrellas and parasols while the rest of the wedding party waves hankies in the air.
There are many local vendors that sell all the materials needed for customizing handkerchiefs, umbrellas, koozies, beads, plastic cups and anything else the couple wants to make the second line reflect their love story. See the accompanying list of retailers to get started.
"Second lines can be personalized with different style bands, throws and even floats," says Andrea Heming, owner of Vim & Verve event planning. "The sky is the limit. You can have everything personalized with monograms, wedding colors, feathers and glitter."
Another popular option is buying plain umbrellas and having a friend or relative design and decorate them. Many people use beads in the design as well.
Prices for accessories vary greatly. "Parasols cost anywhere from $30-$300 depending on what materials are used," Thompson says. "I would say the average price for a pair of wedding parasols is around $90. Custom designs are more expensive. Handkerchiefs run anywhere from $15-$30 a dozen, depending on how they are printed or embroidered and which colors are used."
"Koozies average $175 per 100," Spera says. "Custom cups average $125 per 100. Of course, the more you buy, the lower the cost per item."
To bring rhythm and style to a second line, couples often hire a grand marshal to lead the parade, Thompson says, "usually dressed in a suit, a Stetson hat and a decorated sash, carrying feather fans. Couples also incorporate the culture of New Orleans by including Mardi Gras Indians in their parade. I've also seen people hand out sparklers or bubbles for their guests.
"For elderly or disabled guests, I suggest hiring a pedicab driver to bike them along the second-line route. This allows your guests to enjoy the celebration without having to make the walk," Thompson says.
You may decide to hire a professional planner to do all the work for you. Experts recommend hiring an on-site coordinator.
"The coordinator will act as the liaison between the wedding party, the band and the police, and will walk the entire route to make sure everything goes off without a hitch," Thompson says. "The planning and the parade go much smoother with a professional handling all the details and giving direction the day of. This way, the bride and groom can relax and have fun."
for umbrellas, handkerchiefs, cups and more:
Backyard Printing and Second-line Handkerchiefs (1960 Surgi Drive, Mandeville, 504-251-5567; www.secondlinehandkerchiefs.com) sells custom-printed handkerchiefs, embroidered handkerchiefs and custom-designed umbrellas.
Beads by the Dozen (333 Edwards Ave., 504-734-9966; www.beadsbythedozen.com) customizes umbrellas and sells cups, beads and koozies.
Bella Umbrella (2036 Magazine St., 504-302-1036; www.bellaumbrella.com) rents vintage umbrellas from the 1930s-'60s and sells wedding umbrellas and sun parasols in an array of colors and styles.
Big Wheel Novelties (1210 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Suite 3, Kenner, 504-464-0523; www.bigwheelnovelties.com) sells beads, cups and decorations for personalizing umbrellas.
Gem Printing (1904 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 504-831-1762; www.gemprinting.com) sells traditional second-line handkerchiefs, which it can personalize, and a variety of second-line umbrellas. It also sells personalized plastic cups.
Jefferson Variety (239 Iris Ave., Jefferson, 504-834-5222; www.jeffersonvariety.com) is a one-stop shop for crafting supplies.
Old Town Praline & Gift Shop (1506 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 504-828-6228; www.old- townpraline.com) sells standard and custom-made second-line umbrellas and handkerchiefs.
Party Cup Express (121 Industrial Ave., Jefferson, 504-835-5465; www.partycupexpress.com) sells cups and koozies.
Rudman's Card and Party Shop (741 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 504-833-1286; www.rudmans.com) sells high-quality handkerchiefs and lace umbrellas.
Stella Umbrella Parasols (1233 Decatur St., 504-345-4464; www.stellaumbrellaparasols.com) sells material, trim, beads, feathers and other materials to personalize umbrellas.