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Music is the heart and soul of New Orleans, and it features prominently in the city’s most magical wedding traditions. Want to get your guests literally dancing in the street? It’s actually a quintessential way to celebrate your marriage in the Crescent City. Known as a second line, a wedding parade in New Orleans involves marriers and a brass band leading guests along a short route through the city. It’s a unique way to express your joy and make your wedding unforgettable. Check out my tips for having an amazing second line at your wedding.
Even though second lines are popular at contemporary New Orleans weddings, they have their roots in African American funeral practices. Before life insurance companies would issue policies to Black Americans, they formed groups called social aid and pleasure clubs. When a member died, they’d pool their money to give them a big send off that included a second line.
Over time, second lines got incorporated into many parts of New Orleans life, including weddings. Social aid and pleasure clubs remain important community organizations too. In addition to doing charitable work, they hold large second lines throughout the spring.
This form of parading has even deeper roots in the African diaspora. If you’re able to travel to the Caribbean and West Africa, you might see similar traditions. In Haiti, the rara music even has some similarities with New Orleans brass bands.
Let’s talk about your second line. Any wedding parade in New Orleans isn’t complete without a custom umbrella. At second lines, social aid and pleasure club members go all out with fringe, feathers, and sequins. Have fun customizing your wedding umbrella! Add your monogram, wedding date, or other on-theme decor. Remember too that these wedding umbrellas will feature in some of your favorite photos. There are a few things you should consider in picking the best wedding umbrella for your photos.
Just like any other wedding detail, think about whether your wedding umbrella goes with your venue and aesthetic. If you want your reception to have festival vibes, a multicolored wedding umbrella with fringe might be perfect for your dancing in the street. Natural textures and colors look amazing in outdoor venues with lots of lush greenery. New Orleans is known for its tropical climate. Embrace the energy and warmth with feathers or soft, colorful pom-poms.
Wedding parades in New Orleans typically happen directly after the ceremony, but more marriers are choosing to end their reception with second lines. (It’s definitely an effective way to clear your wedding venue!) When you’re choosing your wedding umbrella, think about how it will translate in the light at that time of day. Fringe and feathers give wedding umbrellas a sense of movement during the day. At night, color catches the light in fun ways.
By far, my favorite wedding umbrellas for nighttime second line photos are lacey designs with cutouts. Imagine the streetlight backlighting you and your partner with a cinematic glow. Every detail of the lace stands out against the dramatic light. Second lines are such exciting parties but also so classic. A well-timed photo with a lace wedding umbrella feels glamorous and intimate in the middle of an animated celebration.
Once you’ve picked out your wedding umbrella, you can think about your guests’ favors. Typically, guests carry handkerchiefs for a wedding parade in New Orleans. You can order monogrammed handkerchiefs for your guests to wave as they dance down the road. They look so lively and so New Orleans.
If handkerchiefs don’t fit your aesthetic, try beads or wearable glitter. Set up a table near the exit for guests to grab theirs on their way out of the ceremony or reception venue. You might be surprised how many people are ready to cover their cheeks in glitter! I’ve even seen people distribute tambourines as wedding favors.
Plastic beads and glitter do have a negative environmental impact. To bring something unexpected with a smaller footprint, assign a couple of friends to carry small bubble machines. Day or night, the bubbles will catch the light and add beautiful dimension to your wedding photos. The bubbles will also drift into the path of passersby, spreading happiness to everyone you pass.
It’s surprisingly easy to have a wedding parade in New Orleans. All you have to do is bring a detailed route map, completed application, and fee to City Hall. The total fee, including police escort, comes in at a bit under $500 and includes the police escort to clear the way for your parade. The city requires that everything be turned in just 15 days beforehand. I once heard Hannibal Buress do a whole bit about how this system could only happen in New Orleans. He’s right!
Of course, you’ll need a brass band for your second line. That will probably take more than 15 days to arrange. If you’re not familiar with any, you can find most on Instagram. Local radio station WWOZ’s Livewire listings will tell you where bands are playing if you want to check some out ahead of time too.
If you decide to have your wedding parade after your ceremony, it usually goes like this: The brass band waits at the back of the ceremony venue. When the ceremony is over, they play a funky recessional. You lead your guests into the streets and dance all the way to the reception venue. There’s no awkward start to cocktail hour when everyone is already moving and singing along to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” (It’s a favorite for wedding parades in
If you’re planning a wedding parade in New Orleans, you’re going to want some photos! I’ve photographed second lines in all kinds of conditions. Indoors, outdoors, mid afternoon, late night – I’ve done it all. I specialize in black and white, nighttime photography, and analog film. I’ll bring these unique parts of my style to your second line! Reach out, and let’s create some magic together.