Anyone who knows anything can tell you, in a few short descriptive words, what Mardi Gras is all about. Party. Beads. Hurricanes. Floats. A really big frickin’ parade.
Partial nudity and madness are also words that may or may not be used, but that depends on what kind of person you are.
Mardi Gras is most certainly the biggest parade in New Orleans, but definitely not the only one — not even close. One of the things I learned on my trip was how New Orleans is so steeped in a regional cultural all unto itself — more so than any other state, region, or city in the U.S.. New Orleans residents are so unique and passionately soaked in local culture, as seen through their music, historical references, numerous landmarks, food, religious influences, and most evidently so — in parades.
Now let’s talk parade as culture. I mean, if parades are part daily life around these parts, can you blame residents for not being so completely passionate about their city??!
The Second Line is an event, a parade, that frequently take place in neighborhoods around town. Usually on Sundays, mostly during Mardi Gras season but also scheduled throughout the year in relative degrees of popularity, different groups of different demographics parade through streets celebrating life and music in various coördinated outfits and costumes. There’s a second line that celebrates Star Wars and its parade marauders are dressed up as Star Wars characters, I’m told. But that’s something of a completely different cultural history that I’m not going to delve into.
The term ‘Second Line’ comes from a tradition of funeral processions, which is rumored to have descended from West African heritage and tradition. Following the casket would be a brass band, and following the band would be those celebrating the life of the deceased. Today, there are still actual second line funeral processions that take place — particularly when notable figures in town pass away. On the flip side, second line processions have also become popular at weddings in New Orleans.
Every year in November, my friends’ favorite second line troupe holds their biggest fête. The Lady Buckjumpers are a prominent social group in town, and we were able to catch up at the end point of the parade to witness some of the magic. Groups of young girlfriends in coördinated outfits (bright colorful spandex and faux leather vests seemed to be a popular choice among the urban youth of New Orleans) paraded in the line, after band members pumping out brass music while wearing bright orange and purple zoot suits and top hats. Younger kids danced around (the troupe has a younger division called the junior buckjumpers), and masses of friends and families walked past yelling and hollering and one another.
We were, in our skinny jeans and designer t-shirts, slightly out of place. But the thing was, in the parade atmosphere, where everyone is celebrating and walking to the music, no one ever feels totally excluded.