WATCH: Planning a Wedding in New Orleans? Here’s How to Host a Showstopping Second-Line Parade
Once you say "I do," it’s time to let the good times roll.
New Orleans, Louisiana, is associated with many things—fluffy beignets, overstuffed po'boys, deliciously greasy boudin, festively-colored king cake, and, of course, spicy Popeyes chicken. But that’s just the food.
Unlike any other locale in the South, the Birthplace of Jazz is also known for its interesting wedding traditions and rituals. For example, pulling charms from the wedding cake, burying bourbon, getting crafty with good-luck voodoo dolls, and hosting second-line wedding parades are all prevalent traditions rooted firmly in New Orleans. Although, among those four wedding practices, the second line doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being one of the most exciting ways to solidify the couple's big day.
If you’ve never heard of the long-established custom for the bride and groom, the name pretty much gives it away. Second lines are like most small-town parades or Mardi Gras parades, and they're often used in the place of a sit-down reception dinner. After the ceremony, the bride, groom, and their wedding guests flood the streets—dancing in unison, waving their handkerchiefs or cocktail napkins, and twirling their umbrellas and parasols to the beat of the accompanying brass band.
Basically, it’s a street block party in constant motion to celebrate the couple’s new life together. As you would imagine in a lively city such as New Orleans, second-line parades aren’t just reserved for weddings. Southern revelers also incorporate them into sad and happy occasions like funerals and birthdays. Most notably, the Texas-bred R&B juggernaut, Solange Knowles-Ferguson, gathered her friends and family together for a second-line parade after her New Orleans ceremony in 2014.
1. First, plan your route.
Once you’ve booked the venue for your ceremony and reception, it’s time to start finalizing the details on the route of your second-line parade. Do you want to incorporate the second line as a way to mobilize your guests from the wedding venue to the reception, or do you want to hold off the parade until after the reception? Either way, you have to plan your route, block by block. The only requirement is that the second line be routed in the same direction as traffic. As far as how long or short the parade will be, it’s completely up to the bride and groom. If they’re willing to brave the New Orleans heat in full wedding attire, the parade can extend for several blocks.
2. Next, purchase your permit.
Couples have to file a permit with the City of New Orleans. Applications are available here. The bride and groom will need to know the route, start and end location, and how many people expected to participate. Applications should be submitted no later than two months before the wedding is scheduled, and the permit typically costs $50 with an additional one-time fee of $25 paid to the Police and Justice Foundation.
3. Hire a parade escort to keep you, your bridal party, and wedding guests safe.
Upon approval, the bride will be contacted for confirmation and miscellaneous details. Per NewOrleans.com, escorts are required and usually include two officers at the front of the parade and a tail car to direct traffic and close streets. There’s a separate cost for each police escort.
4. Don’t forget to book the band!
A second line isn’t a party without the band. In the same way most brides have to do their research on DJs and live bands to perform at the wedding reception, they'll need to do the same for marching bands in the parades. The price can fluctuate, depending on how many band members requested and the uniforms. But brides can expect to pay anywhere between $500-$1500.
5. Lastly, use the umbrellas or handkerchiefs as wedding favors.
One way to make a lasting impression on guests is to give them personalized umbrellas or handkerchiefs with the couple's names and wedding date to take home as a party favor. NewOrleans.com also suggests family members can decorate the umbrellas and monogram the handkerchiefs to give as a gift to the couple.