History and Tradition - Having a second line during your wedding wasn't always the "traditional" second line. Don't get me wrong, the Second Line is a New Orleans tradition in every way, shape, and form, but it hasn't always been associated with weddings.
Long before the second line became a New Orleans wedding tradition, it was associated with funerals. It was a celebration of life at the moment of death. The earliest second lines date back to slavery when african americans brought their funeral traditions here to South Louisiana. The "main line" or "first line" is made up of the family and the brass band while guests and others followed in the "second line." Much like this scene from Treme, you'd see the band and a hearse and mourners making their way to the cemetery while the tunes of a dirge play in the background. The music is slow and reflective of the event like "Closer Walk to Thee." Then later, after the deceased is interred, the procession leaves the cemetery to a more lively and celebratory feel (as seen on Treme - https://youtu.be/xqwtd46qtPU). The music will pick up to reflect celebrating the deceased life and the band will play songs like "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Just like the people of New Orleans, the second line mixed and mingled with other cultures and traditions and developed into so much more. Eventually it became noted for the New Orleans' famous Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and Benevolent Societies, which were largely founded as community-based health and funeral insurance co-ops. And then people began to hire second line bands for entertainment as in another scene from Treme. It was so entertaining eventually people wanted it for their weddings, and so became the tradition of the wedding second line.
At a wedding the second line signifies the start of a new beginning of life for the bride and groom. It is truly a celebration! The second line band leads the bridal party and the guests from the church to the reception venue or it may take place at the reception itself. And while your northern guests will probably not know what a second line is or what to do when it starts, they will most definitely remember being a part of one for the rest of their lives!
It is no wonder your guests will love this naturally NOLA tradition, you are literally the main attraction without feeling like you are in the spotlight. At first, they may feel a bit weird or strange, but it is weirdly amazing and crazy awesome! It's a time to relax and be free and listen to the music and dance in the streets with your closest friends and fam and you feel kind of like a rock star! If you're having a destination wedding to New Orleans, it's an absolute must have!
What's that they're carrying? Is that a tissue? And what is with the umbrella? Those date back to the funerals as well. It's hot in New Orleans and the sun is beating down on you. Of course you're going to have an umbrella (or at least that is what common sense tells me and other articles on the internet). It was also a part of fashion at the time to carry an umbrella or "parasol." Today, Second Line Umbrellas reflect the bride and groom's personal style or their favorite school or professional team as they twirl and spin as if to say “laissez les bons temps rouler”! a hankie and start walking and bouncing and twirling and having fun. Today any paper or cloth napkin has been used to wave in the air to allow you to join in and be part of the fun.
The second line is great for transitioning guests to and from the reception site and from the moment it starts it all looks and feels (as it should) like the party has shown up just for you and your guests, however it’s not all hankies, parasols and sweet, sweet dance moves. But, a second line, takes time and planning and even a bit of money.
Making your Second Line Happen - Are you having a second line? If so, will your DJ play the music as y'all parade around the reception hall or will your band provide a musician or two to guide y'all in the venue or even lead you outside for your exit? How much extra does that cost? Is your second line between the ceremony and reception or is it after the reception or both? Will it be in the street or will it only be on the sidewalks? That's a lot of information and yes you have to know it all when planning for your second line.
Let's start at the beginning - are you having a second line? If not, no worries, your wedding will still rock. If so, let's keep going :)
First you will need to think about when and where you will do the second line (and think of a rain plan while you're at it.). Will the second line be inside the reception or outside? If it is outside, will it be in the street or stay on the sidewalks? A second line in the streets of the French Quarter (or really anywhere in the city) requires a permit and a police escort (you really don't want your guests getting hit by any cars).
Check out the City of New Orleans One Stop Permit shop to get the form and instructions on completing it. While they have a lot of improvements regarding the permitting process, the second line permit is still not one you can submit online. You'll have to make your way to the 7th floor of City Hall and talk with Ms. Claire. The parade or second line permit is $50.25 (by cashier check or money order) and you'll also need to eventually pay for a police escort (normally on the day of the event). The city really appreciates it if you schedule this earlier rather than later AND doing so is a huge check off on your to-do list. The cost associated with police escorts varies based on the length of the route and size of party but expect to pay $100.00 per officer (groups over fifty usually require three or more officers).
Okay, are you going to use some of your reception band or will you have a brass band? And even though they may all share the same name "brass band" they can vary greatly between their styles and their prices. Depending on the length of your parade and the duration of your second line, the cost of a brass band can range from $500-$1,500.00. And, if you want them to play for some of your cocktail hour, you'll have to take that into consideration too.
So you're ready for your second line. Do you have your hankies and umbrellas and other miscellaneous items you might want? These are not necessities but they certainly add to the atmosphere and are a little something your guests can take home with them.
All of these items can be personalized who you are and the wedding date and your colors etc. Really, the sky is the limit. You can have everything personalized with monograms, wedding colors, feathers and glitter. It's just a matter of what is your style and what you want to spend :)
Prices for all of these personalized items varies greatly based on how many and the details you are adding to them. A second line umbrella can start at $25 and then end up being $400 or more depending on what materials are used and how much time it takes. Of course, you already know this, custom designs will definitely be more expensive. Handkerchiefs run anywhere from $10-$40 a dozen, depending on how they are printed or embroidered and which colors are used. If you don't want to spend the money on an umbrella, gather your ladies for a fun night and buy umbrellas and decorate them! And as for the hankies, go ahead and ask your venue if they have cocktail napkins you can use or buy a cheap package. Nobody will mind....they're in a second line!
Now you're almost there, but let's not forget about the people who cannot or do not want to go for that nice leisurely stroll through the city. You may want to have some pedicabs on standby at the start just in case they're needed. That way, those guests do not feel left out and can still enjoy the second line by following behind in the pedicab.
And so you're set. It's really not that bad, but if you need some help or want someone else to do it for you, It's Your Time Events is offering to do the permitting process for you - $300. This includes our time, planning the route with you, and the permit. Police escorts will be done separate as they are paid separately. Give us a call or shoot us an email and we're happy to work with you on this! No stressing! It's your wedding remember :)
And PS - your dog can come on the second line too! Check out K9 Second Line! They're great!