The police escort canceled. The band’s clarinet player couldn’t make it. And Hurricane Nate threatened to rain on her parade.
None of which stopped 93-year-old Pat Green from enjoying her own, pre-emptive jazz funeral procession through a largely deserted French Quarter late Saturday afternoon.
Scores of Saturday night social events were thrown into disarray by Nate’s approach and the city’s mandated 7 p.m. curfew. Concerts were canceled. Weddings were hastily moved to earlier start times. Celebratory second-line parades were scrapped.
But not Green’s.
She is an avid jazz fan who, after decades of annual pilgrimages to New Orleans, finally moved to the city two years ago. Not wanting to miss her own jazz funeral, she decided to have it while she was still alive. She’d ride aboard a custom-made pink casket festooned with musical notes.
Playing a jazz funeral for a living honoree “is a first,” said trumpeter Leroy Jones, whose aptly named Original Hurricane Brass Band led Saturday's parade. “I told Pat, ‘You’ll probably be here another 10 years, but I can understand your sense of urgency at age 93. You’ve got to get your bucket list together.’”
Nearly 30 of Green’s relatives and friends traveled to New Orleans from as far away as Hawaii for Saturday’s celebration, including her 2-year-old great-granddaughter, Sofia Green.
They were determined to carry on, regardless of Nate.
Armed with a parade permit but not the promised police escort, they set out from Spanish Plaza at 4 p.m. behind the band and grand marshal Aaron Blanks. Barely an hour earlier, one of Nate’s outer bands lashed the Quarter with heavy rain. The sky was still a menacing gray.
But as the parade rolled, the rain slackened to a slight drizzle. Soon, it would stop altogether.
“Only Pat could make that happen,” observed Steve Wolff, her nephew-in-law. “Pat’s been the reason for the family to celebrate forever.”
Pat Green loves jazz so much that, at age 91, she moved to New Orleans to be closer to the source.
Canal Street was a ghost town; metal sheets covered the display windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, which, like most retail outlets along the route, were closed.
Team Green was undeterred. Marchers took turns pulling the improvised plywood and wheelchair-wheel cart atop which Green and her casket rode. A motorized scooter from the French Quarter Wedding Chapel trailed a train of eight wagons stocked with iced beer, water and soft drinks.
From the casket, the honoree waved colored handkerchiefs and smiled through a brassy “I’ll Fly Away.” Green’s son, Carl, joined in on saxophone. A cheer went up after every song.
The few tourists on Decatur Street filmed the unexpected spectacle, a rare infusion of color and music on an otherwise drab day. Some strangers joined the march and helped themselves to a beer from the wagon train.
“Half these people, I don’t know who they are,” Wolff said, as he considered the ever-expanding procession.
At the corner of Iberville Street, they stopped to repair a wonky carriage wheel. Wheel secured, they continued to Jackson Square — also shuttered because of the storm — and St. Peter Street.
“Is that free?” asked a young man, before plucking a beer can from a wagon.
In the window of the Fleurty Girl shop, a T-shirt read, “I’m not old, I’m vintage,” a sentiment that certainly applies to the youthful Green. She wore one of the two-dozen yellow fisherman’s smocks upon which she’s collected hundreds of musician autographs over the years.
In the 500 block of Royal Street, a half-dozen drinkers stepped out of a bar to ponder the passing show.
The Little Gem Saloon was to have hosted the parade’s after-party. But given the storm and curfew — which would be rescinded at 8:30 p.m. — proprietors had decided not to open. Pat’s son, Bruce Green, considered cutting the parade route short and steering everyone into a hotel bar, only to rule that out on Royal Street.
“As long as its dry, we’re going to keep rolling,” he said.
The wind picked up outside Hotel Monteleone, then gusted even stronger as the procession turned back onto Canal Street, inverting paper parasols and whipping rain ponchos.
But the band played on.
Marchers took shelter under the Sheraton Hotel’s canopy. Hotel guests and employees went outside to watch the Hurricane Brass Band serenade Green with “Happy Birthday”; she'd turn 94 on Monday. She beamed and clapped along from inside her coffin.
“You earned the shirt,” Bruce Green said, pointing to trumpeter Raymond “Dr. Rackle” Williams’ Hurricane Brass Band logo.
Sousaphone player Rob Espino was initially skeptical of second-lining as a hurricane approached: “You don’t know when the wind will gust around any corner.”
But he was happy that the Hurricane Brass Band’s first-ever performance in an actual hurricane was for their friend Pat. “This is all for her,” he said.
As the wind died down, the parade proceeded on the sidewalk. The wagon train didn’t — the lead scooter had run out of juice. So had several marchers, who dropped out to return to their hotels and hunker down for a storm that would ultimately bypass the city.
Green, however, wasn’t ready to quit. She sipped a beer in her coffin as it passed Harrah’s Casino. The parade finally concluded near where it started at the foot of Canal Street.
The guest of honor wound up spending the night at a downtown hotel. Green’s Uptown retirement community went on lockdown at noon Saturday, not allowing residents in or out.
Green wasn’t about to be locked in and miss her own funeral.
“She fulfilled one of her wishes,” Leroy Jones said. “It was beautiful. I’m so happy the weather held out.”