New Orleans is a city filled with interesting culture and traditions. Whether it’s the accents, the food, music, buildings or parades, New Orleans represents a city that refuses to fall victim to gentrification or changing their lifestyle to become a tourist hotspot. One of the most interesting traditions of New Orleans is that of the Second Lines.
Second Lines are street parades that are thrown in New Orleans, sometimes at random. They begin with a brass band playing music while walking down the street. In New Orleans, this brass band would be a smaller and more ragtag version of a marching band. This is known as the “main line.” Random strangers follow along forming the “second line.”
Second Lines began in the 19th century and were known as “jazz funerals.” Inhabitants of New Orleans began this tradition of introducing music into funeral processions. They did this as a way to celebrate the life of the deceased, instead of mourning, and to stave off negative spirits as the deceased passed into the afterlife. As a result, clubs were formed that would play music during burials.
Typical jazz funerals followed the fashion of the casket being carried out after the church ceremony and transported to the cemetery. All the while, a brass brand surrounded the procession playing somber, melancholy music. Once the deceased was buried, the band would literally change its tune and start playing hot and pulsating rhythms. The second line followed behind the band waving handkerchiefs and dance. Though New Orleans still holds jazz funerals, the concept of the second line has expanded in how it’s used. These parades have become a way to celebrate big events like a holiday or a New Orleans Saints victory!
Another way that second line parades have expanded is in a for-hire manner. People have been known to pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars for these bands to perform at birthdays, weddings, or even corporate events. During these parades, street vendors line the sidewalks selling jambalaya and other local goods.
Second line parades are a tradition from other cultures that the city of New Orleans has whole-heartedly embraced and are a staple of the New Orleans culture. If you’re a visitor to New Orleans, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to witness a random second line parade while you’re there!