How to Plan a New Orleans Wedding Parade the Right Way
A New Orleans wedding parade is a brass band processional tradition that predates the Civil War. Many New Orleans locals and modern couples incorporate this historic custom into their wedding to give homage to their New Orleans roots or show appreciation for a lively Southern wedding tradition. If you and your partner are thinking about having a second line wedding parade on your big day, learn what a second line is, its history and what five essential things you need for a New Orleans-inspired second line.
What Is a New Orleans Second Line?
A New Orleans second line is a popular New Orleans tradition that celebrates life, whether that be the start of a new life for a couple during their wedding or to appreciate the life of a deceased loved one at a funeral.
A New Orleans wedding parade is composed of two sections: a first line and a second line. Leading the wedding parade in the first line is a grand marshal (or parade leader) and a brass band. Immediately behind them, also in the first line, are the newlyweds and wedding party holding decorated parasols. The second line follows them, which is made up of the rest of the wedding guests who wave handkerchiefs in the air. A brass band plays upbeat New Orleans jazz music while everyone dances and moves along the parade route from one destination to another, which is typically from the ceremony to the reception venue.
A funeral second line (or jazz funeral) has a similar setup to a wedding second line. The grand marshal and brass band make up the first line with the immediate family and hearse included. Behind them in the second line are other loved ones present to celebrate the deceased's life.
The History Behind New Orleans Wedding Parades
This New Orleans tradition dates back to the 19th century when fraternal and neighborhood organizations offered insurance and burial services to their African American members. These groups, also known as social aid and pleasure clubs, created neighborhood parades to promote their services and honor passed loved ones. Once insurance and funeral services became more freely available to African Americans, the main purpose of the groups was to host parades.
The Société d'Economie et d'Assistance Mutuelle, also known as the Economie, was an influential organization created by free Black leaders to uplift African Americans and other marginalized groups. This mutual aid society eventually helped second lines become what they are today. In 1875, the Economie made a resolution that required the club to parade in formal attire with music for certain events. Soon after passing that resolution, the club decided that a brass band, a band that plays mostly brass and percussion instruments, should be used in these parades. This resolution birthed a tradition that has remained in New Orleanian culture ever since and is what makes up contemporary second line celebrations.
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How to Plan a New Orleans Wedding Parade
So you've learned the history behind this fun tradition. Now it's time to learn how to plan a New Orleans wedding parade of your own. Here are the five things you need for a New Orleans-style wedding second line:
Plan your parade route.
The first thing you need to do is plan your parade route. If a couple's ceremony venue and reception venue aren't far from one another, couples will use the second line to move them and their wedding guests from their ceremony to their reception. With this option, you need your wedding venues finalized before making the parade route. You determine how long or short your parade route will be, but keep in mind how far your guests are willing to walk. We suggest the entire route take at most 20 minutes––you don't want to tire your guests out before all of your fun reception activities. If your wedding venues aren't close to one another, schedule the New Orleans second line at the end of the reception to close out the night. You can plan a short route around the venue, return and then send everyone on their way.
Get a street permit.
Once you created your ideal second line wedding parade route, you'll have to get a street permit so you can parade at your chosen time and get permission to close off the streets to vehicular traffic. The paperwork you have to complete and the permit's price depends on the city you're planning your second line in, so go to the city's website or city hall to figure out what you need to do to get a street permit. We suggest submitting your street permit request at least three months before your wedding day––it's always better to have more than enough time to prepare.
Hire a city-mandated parade escort.
After your street permit application is approved, you'll need to hire city-mandated parade escorts. This type of authority is required for street closures and leading and tailing the parade. The number of escorts you'll need and the cost depends on how long your route is, how many people will be in the parade and, possibly, if your second line wedding route isn't going in the same direction as traffic. For example, in New Orleans, you need a minimum of three police officers, and it costs at least $385 for up to 300 people. So when you speak with your city-mandated parade escorts, ask them what their prices and escort requirements are.
Hire a brass band.
You can't have a New Orleans-style wedding parade without a brass band. The cost of the band is contingent on how many musicians are in the band, usually it's a three to six-piece walking brass band, and prices start at $500. Based on where your wedding venue is, it might be a little harder to find a brass band for your event, so feel free to get creative and ask any musical band to lead the way for your second line. Check out The Knot Marketplace for musical performers near you.
Hand out parade favors.
The final touches you need for your New Orleans second line are parade favors. Personalize colorful parasols for you and your partner with your names and wedding date. You can add the same personalization to your wedding guests' handkerchiefs, which they can save as wedding keepsakes. Want to know another way to appreciate New Orleanian culture? Try the New Orleans wedding tradition of having a close family member decorate the umbrellas for you and your partner.
Eric Seiferth, "Where do second lines come from? The origins go back more than 200 years," HNOC.org
Ian McNulty, "Block Parties in Motion: the New Orleans Second Line Parade," FrenchQuarter.com