The centerpiece of our New Orleans trip was our parade. It didn’t begin that way. In fact, we didn’t even know we were going to have a parade when we decided this would be the year we finally went to New Orleans.
I owe y’all a little bit of back story. New Orleans has been a city we’ve planned on visiting for years – as in, for more than a decade. We’d wanted to visit but then Hurricane Katrina happened and we didn’t feel it was the time to go. Over time, the trip slipped to the back burner.
Last year, several things happened that reminded us we still hadn’t been to New Orleans. My best friend from college moved to New Orleans from New Jersey and has been posting pictures to his Instagram showing how wonderful the city is. We also started writing the blog and I wrote an article about how you need to visit places after natural disasters which reminded me we never visited after Katrina. It was time and we made a promise to ourselves that our trip would be the year.
When we planned out our travel for 2018, a necessity when you need to put in for your vacation a year in advance like I do, we penciled in a week in New Orleans for October 2018. Since we now live in the south, we know not to visit anywhere in the summer, when it’s oppressively hot.
So we had dates in the calendar. I made hotel reservations and booked the airfare. We’re going to be in New Orleans for five nights. So what should we do?
During one of our random dinner conversations, since we don’t allow phones at the table, I brought up the topic of “What do you want to do in New Orleans?” Sharon had no ideas so I just threw out the idea, “Want to have a parade?”
Sharon replied, “You can do that?”
I didn’t even know. You see, all of my knowledge at this point was from comedian Hannibal Buress. I watched a stand up special where he talked about having a second line parade for a bachelor party. It sounded really neat. He did the same bit on the Tonight Show and the parade material starts around 2:00.
I didn’t think Sharon would be so into it but she loved the idea of us throwing a parade for no real reason. So off to the planning I went.
Planning the Parade
For those of you not familiar with a Second Line, they are a long lasting tradition in New Orleans culture. While they do have a historical significance, today they are a common occurrence, particularly in the French Quarter.
Additional second lines, large or small, may be held for any event which people think merits hiring a parading band for such a style of celebration, including weddings and opening of businesses.
I knew setting up a parade couldn’t be as easy as Hannibal made it seem so I started searching the internet. I found a great guide at Frenchquarter.com that provided details on how you could plan your own parade or have someone do the planning for you.
If you want to do it yourself, you can go to the New Orleans OneStop permit website. No kidding, it’s amazingly easy to set up something like this yourself, if you know what you’re doing. The parade permit is $200.25 and the mandatory police escort fee is $384.97. On top of that you need to hire the band and there’s no shortage of brass bands for hire. Since I have no idea about New Orleans, I looked into having someone help me with the planning.
I found several websites that offered Second Line planning services, and most of them are affiliated with bands. I wrote to several of them asking for a price quote for our parade and I received several quotes at varying price points.
In a previous life, Sharon worked with an arts organization and was responsible for booking musicians so we had a reasonable idea of how much it should cost to book a six piece band and Grand Marshall for an hour (and some) of work. Adding the price for the band, the permit and the police we were able to estimate the real cost of the parade. One of the quotes we received for the band, the permits and all of the planning was at a price reasonably above the price of booking everything ourselves. We were willing to pay a little extra to have someone do all of the work for us.
We booked The Jaywalkers Second Line Parade Band. We were having a parade!
So what do you do when you’re throwing a parade? You invite your friends.
We started letting people know we were having a parade. I let my college friend know we were coming to town and we were having a Second Line. His response was:
OMG. What’s the occasion for the second line?
Or just because?
It was then I realized “just because” is as valid of a reason to throw a celebration in New Orleans as any other.
We asked around and besides people who lived in the area, we had a friend from England fly in for the week and our friends from Florida, who used to live in the New Orleans area, drive up for the weekend. We were now planning a seven person parade led by a six piece band with a Grand Marshall.
The Grand Marshall, Darlene, was also the parade coordinator and she was in contact with me several times leading up to our parade. At one point she asked if we were having a bachelor party and I told her it definitely was not. Upon explaining the reason for the celebration, she replied that this was a great idea and it sounded like a lot of fun. She also provided places for us to get supplies, if we wanted, but assured us we could do as much or as little as we wanted. As it turned out, we did very little for the parade besides show up.
I had the starting location of the parade and the end. That was it. As it turned out, our parade route started just down the block from where we were staying at the W New Orleans. Twenty minutes before the parade was supposed to start, I walked to the bar at the corner and saw a brass band waiting there. I can’t lie, it was really neat. I walked up to Darlene, who I recognized from pictures on the website, and introduced myself.
We chatted for a bit and I told the story of how everyone there knew (or didn’t know) each other. Shortly thereafter, the rest of our group arrived and we got ready for the parade. When my college friend and his wife arrived, I realized they’d adapted to New Orleans life because they came with provisions, a bag full of Jello Shots!!!
And We’re Off!
Before we knew it, the band started playing. The plan was to do one or two songs on the street before we started. The bar was in on it so they turned off the music inside and let our band be the entertainment. People started taking out cell phones and recording. It was awesome.
Then we hit the street. What began as a group of 7 friends was now about 20 people. Strangers just joined in our parade, and it was fine; we wanted them to join us. People were walking along, FaceTiming their friends saying how they were in a parade in New Orleans. I mean, wouldn’t you?
If you ever get a chance to walk behind a band marching down Chartres Street towards Jackson Square at 6PM on a beautiful Friday afternoon, I suggest you take full advantage of it.
Notice the people up on the balconies watching? That happened all along the route. Shop owners came outside to dance. Tourists took pictures. Drunks yelled from balconies. We became a part of everyone else’s day. We were the attraction but everyone got to enjoy it. I’m sure people went home and told friends that they were walking down Bourbon St. and out of nowhere a parade happened. It’ll be one of their New Orleans memories. This parade wasn’t just for us and the five other people we knew. It was for all of New Orleans. For a moment, we became part of the city’s traditions. part of its culture.
What can I say, there’s no better way to walk down the street. I was pulled up the front of the parade for a song. I did my best to dance along (it’s not hard to move when you have an amazing band behind you) but I was really holding things back with my attempts to move and groove to the beat.
Sharon enjoyed the parade in her own way, by capturing it for our followers on Facebook Live. She’s the most happy when she gets to observe. If you want to watch the video, here’s the entire parade (from beginning to end).
Was It Worth It?
HECK YEAH, MAN! It was the one part of our New Orleans trip that I’ll never forget. Sharon and I are into collecting experiences and not things. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We got together a group of friends from all different parts of our lives (and from all over the globe) to share an amazing moment in an amazing city. It’s a shared experience that we’ll never forget. We also shared this moment with total strangers (some of them marched the entire parade with us and took pictures with the band when we were done). It was an amazing experience. If you can’t throw a parade for yourself in New Orleans, if you see one going down the street and the partiers are beckoning you to join them, go ahead. I promise you won’t regret it!
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary