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How To Apply For A Parade Permit in San Francisco

 

What is a parade defined as?

Let’s talk super fun San Francisco police code definitions (idea for a new best seller?). According to Article 4, Section 366, it is a non-athletic event (debatable—have they ever seen a Mardi Gras, second line, or New Orleans Style brass band parade?) in which people proceed as a collective body for more than one block on foot, in any sort of vehicle, or riding on an animal and obstructs or interferes with the normal flow of vehicular traffic.

So, by definition, the mob that tried to storm Frankenstein’s castle was really just a parade for a cause. Sounds like it could have been a fun time. Anyway, you don’t need any pitchforks or creepy lightening-lit castles, your parade is going to be epic (and maybe someone will be inspired to write a literary classic about it).

Who do I ask about getting a parade permit?


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Permit fairy, are you there? Ugh, if only it were that easy. You need to apply to the jurisdiction where your parade is going to make its magic happen. And there’s paperwork involved. Yuck.

Might as well start this parade permit paperwork


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Here you go, take and fill out the San Francisco Police Department application. Once it’s been properly filled out, it goes to the permit officer at the police station in the area where the parade starts.

If your parade is so awesome it can’t be contained to one jurisdiction (and we hope that is the case), no problem. Just submit the permit application to:

Sgt. Frank Hagan, SFPD

Traffic Division Event Coordinator

850 Bryant Street, Room 154San Francisco, CA 94103

Frank.Hagan@sfgov.org (415) 553-1929

If there are any other government agencies that oversee the land where you are beginning or holding the parade, you’ll need to talk to them as well. For instance, if you are starting or ending your parade in or near a park, you need to get another permit from the San Francisco Recreation & Park Department.

How far in advance do I need to apply for a permit?


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The city of San Francisco recommends handing in your application at least 2 months before the event. It not only gives them enough time to process your permit, but it gives you enough time to appeal if they deny your parade (we know, who would ever want to deny something as awesome as a parade!).

Types of parades to consider


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You may have never seriously thought to yourself “I think I’ll throw a parade”. It sounds like it might be complicated and really, what kind of parade would I stage and why? Isn’t that for big organizers like Macy’s on Thanksgiving? The good news is, even regular people can organize and apply to stage a parade.

There are plenty of reasons to throw a parade. Some organize parades to celebrate holidays or commemorate important events or people. Some parades celebrate life in or an anniversary particular to a specific town or city. Of course, we couldn’t forget to mention the ultra-colorful and wildly fun Mardi Gras parades. But what about one of our personal favorites—the second line parade?

What is a second-line parade?


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Some have called it a festive moving block party, complete with spirited live music. Neighbors, friends, or social clubs usually organize these and head up the parade along with an honored guest (or guests) like a bride and groom. They actually make up the first “line” of the parade.

After the VIP first-line guests come to the brass band, enthusiastically leading the second line with lively music and often some killer dance moves and struts. Second-line parades are particularly great because, unlike most parades, it’s a very inclusive affairs. Anyone energetic enough to keep up can join in the parade, following the band and adding own their dancing and strutting to the fun.

Second-line revelers can also bring flare to the procession by adding to the beat of the band with hand clapping or pretty much any improvised instrument like sticks or bottles. Since a good deal of the movement and sound are made up as the procession goes, it’s fair to say that each parade is unique with its own distinct style based on its participants.

Originally, second-line parades were actually part of funeral and burial traditions that originated in West Africa. Some still carry on this upbeat tradition as a celebration of life, particularly for black musicians who are appropriately “buried with music”.

Nowadays, some bride and grooms get extra and add second-line parades to their wedding day festivities. They might hold them after the ceremony, choosing to parade from the ceremony site to the reception site. They are also held during receptions (help get even the most curmudgeonly wallflowers off their feet and dancing) or sometimes after the reception to close the night out with a bang.

Some couples even decide to celebrate in the streets with their second-line parade (and this is where the need for a permit would come in). In a typical raucous New Orleans second-line parade, police may blare sirens and clear the way for the bride, groom, and other paraders to dance their way down the street. Don’t be surprised when random people join in this type of parade, it’s almost impossible to resist! These parades usually go about 5-8 blocks and last around 20-30 minutes.

You don’t have to be in New Orleans (you might be in a city like San Francisco perhaps) in order to organize a second-line parade. New Orleans is happy to share their traditions with festive party people around the country and the globe. Wherever you decide to stomp your feet, just make sure you contact the local authorities and get your permit situation straight so you can parade without a care in the world.

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras has become synonymous with raucous partying that includes beads, masks, krewes, and parades (and of course, free flowing libations) and can be found lighting up New Orleans (and other fun-loving places) in early February or March. Mardi Gras is a French term that literally means Fat Tuesday, a time for eating rich fatty foods (sounds like a hella great time to us).

In other places like the UK, it is also known as Strove (or shrive) Tuesday which literally means “confess” (Bo, What a buzzkill). You may also hear of it referred to in Brazil and other Latin countries as Carnevale (yay, the party’s back!).

Mardi Gras has been called  “Greatest free party on Earth”.

Through Carnevale is sometimes printed or pronounced Carnival – a name that is associated with delightful, innocent fun– it is actually derived from the Latin “farewell to the flesh”, or the taking away of meat.

Mardi Gras actually has quite a fascinating and fun history. You might have wondered how it got started and eventually evolved into the celebrations we see around the world today. Well, the good news is—we know the answers to your Mardi Gras questions! Keep reading and we’ll fill you in on all the hot Mardi Gras gossip.

The Origins of Mardi Gras


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The origins of Mardi Gras​

Given it’s hard-partying ways, it might be hard to believe that Mardi Gras has religious roots. Though the last day of it is celebrated before the Roman Catholic period known as Lent and it is typically associated with those religious traditions, it’s celebrations are rooted in orgy and alcohol-fueled pagan spring fertility rites (Roman Lupercalia and Druid customs) that long pre-date Christianity.

Once Christianity became all the rage in Rome (around the 3rd or 4th century), Christendom blended pagan customs into their traditions so that pagan people would be more apt to accept it as the official religion.

Lent is a 40-day period of fasting and penance– hence the wildin’ out and hardcore fattening up of fat Tuesday, the day before the partying stops. It lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

As a result, the excessive partying of Mardi Gras (pagan Lupercalia) came to be a prelude to the more austere Lent season (Roman Catholicism/Christianity). And once this new christianity spread its way around Europe, the Mardi Gras traditions went with it.

Mardi Gras goes to America


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How did Mardi Gras make its way to America and specifically New Orleans? As was mentioned, Mardi Gras bopped around Europe, making itself home mainly in Catholic countries like France. On March 3, 1699, two French explorers, Sieur de Bienville and Pierre Le Moyne d’ Iberville, made it all the way to the area we now call Louisiana, landing close to where New Orleans would be built. The day they landed, they celebrated finally getting off that cursed boat, kissed dry land (possible we made that part up) and named the spot Point du Mardi Gras. French settlers that followed over the decades also treated that day as a holiday and celebrated it with masked balls, street parties, and decadent meals. As long as Louisiana was under French rule, the good times kept rolling. In 1763, Spain took over the area and put a real crimp in the debauchery, banning Mardi Gras because they felt that things were getting too out of control. The ban remained in effect into the 1800s, until the French Creole population insisted that Mardi Gras was a must. It was reinstituted, Mardi Gras has been called the “greatest free party on earth”

Though Carnevale is sometimes printed or pronounced Carnival—a name that is associated with delightful, innocent fun– it is actually derived from the Latin “farewell to the flesh”, or the taking away of meat.

Lent is a 40-day period of fasting and penance—hence the wildin’ out and hardcore fattening up of Fat Tuesday,
the day before the partying stops. It lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. and everyone went buck-wild with it, causing a cap to be put on the fun so it didn’t become one year-
round party.

The Mardi Gras evolution


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Some sources say that many of the colorful traditions of Mardi Gras were started by a group of fun-loving college kids who came back from Paris and feeling inspired by what they had seen there, whooped it up. They danced through the streets of New Orleans wearing colorful masks and costumes. Well, who could resist an amazing outdoor costume dance party? Nobody in 19th century Louisiana could that’s for sure, and so others joined in the fun. In 1837, the first Mardi Gras parade marched down the streets of New Orleans and they haven’t stopped since.

Starting in the 19th century, Mardi Gras went from simple street parties to many of the elaborate affairs we see today. The men of an organization known as Comus were the ones that brought krewes (they called themselves Ye Mistick Krewe of Comus), themed parades, costumed masqueraders, and parade floats to the festivities.

Soon after other krewes formed. These sort of secret and pretty exclusive organizations put on Mardi Gras parades and elaborate balls. Members had to pay fees to join, sometimes thousands of dollars, but were given exclusive VIP access to Mardi Gras galas.

In 1871 the first bean cake (known as a King cake) was presented to a young, unmarried woman who was declared the Mardi Gras Queen, starting the royal traditions of the festivities.

The bean cake idea was actually derived from ancient tribal customs related to spring rites.

The party-innovators of 1872 wanted to flesh out the royal court a bit, so Mardi Gras Queens had a Rex, or King of the Carnival added to the fun. He wore the now traditional gold, green, and purple, and even had his own royal anthem “If I Ever Cease to Love”.

The King’s Ball  was held on Twelfth Night (the 12th night after Christmas, January 6th) and kicked off the ball-throwing season. Traditionally, a bean cake was cut during this party and the lucky winner had to throw the next ball.

Not long after, tossing beads and other trinkets from floats became popular. The crowds were all in. They grew in size, waiting for floats to pass by and yelling “Throw me something mister”, trying to score one of the coveted trinkets.

Mardi Gras in modern times


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The partying of Mardi Gras was so epic that not even some of the worst periods in history could kill its festive spirit. It survived through World War I, Prohibition, The Great Depression, and even World War II, coming out the other side not just unscathed, but bigger and wilder than ever. Here are some of the traditions that you’ll find in today’s Mardi Gras Celebrations.

  • Mardi Gras balls:
    After Christmas, it’s a gala ball every night. Spectacular affairs full of glittering and elaborate costumes (would you expect anything less?) are thrown by various krewes. Royal courts are chosen ahead of time and not revealed until the ball. Not content to just have a king or queen, everyone eventually wanted to get in on the royal action. Today, ladies-in-waiting, The bean cake idea was actually derived from ancient tribal customs related to spring rites. lieutenants, maids, and other “royalty” are chosen to make up a full royal court. In recent years, celebrities including Hollywood actors have been chosen for this regal honor.
  • King cakes:
    Not just for one lucky girl or future ball-hosters anymore, these days it is served to all unmarried women at Mardi Gras banquets. They may contain beans or baby figurines (which represents Christ as a child). It is also a popular custom for employers of office workers to bring a King cake to their employees. The winner (or loser?) has to buy a cake for the office the next day.
  • Tableaux:
    Dating back to medieval times, tableaux were show-like pageants put on where actors played out or wore customs to become living illustrations representing scenes from history and mythology. They were held on the day of a king or queen’s coronation and might be done in a parade-like fashion. All-night festivities followed. Today, similar tableaux are performed during Mardi Gras balls, and following medieval tradition, culminate in the coronation of the king and queen. After the royal court is presented, everyone dances and parties on til the break of dawn.
  • The Skull and Bone Gang:
    Going back to 1819, this gang had its roots in African spirituality. The tradition of the gang went on for some 200 years but took a brief hiatus. Now they’re back baby, and creepier than ever. If you are in the Treme neighborhood near the French Quarter and are brave enough to get up at 5am (or maybe you never even went to sleep), you might hear and see the gang coming through the neighborhood, knocking from door-to-door. Wearing skeleton customs (you can tell the chief of the gang by the antelope-eque antlers), they beat drums and dance through the streets chanting bone-chilling things like “If you don’t live right, the Bone Man is comin’ for ya”. *Shivers*
  • Mardi Gras Indians:
    Scattered throughout the city, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of costumed Mardi Gras Indians who especially appear on Super Sunday and at the jazz festival. There are about 3 dozen “tribes” that move throughout New Orleans neighborhoods dance battling, throwing shade, and song-fighting over whose chief is the “prettiest”. In all fairness, the chiefs go all out when it comes to their uber-elaborate beaded costumes that include brightly colored ostrich feathers, sequins, velvet, and rhinestones. The very definition of fabulous.
  • Parades:
    Is it really modern Mardi Gras if there aren’t parades full of float riders throwing out colorful beads, “doubloons”, moon pies, and other trinkets? Aside from the floats, colorfully dressed second line bands march throughout the city in all their pomp, blowing trumpets and other instruments, strutting, dancing, and letting anyone who can keep up join in. The bigger parades may not allow crowd participation, but find yourself a second line parade and you can join the festivities. You may also see flambeaux carriers creating their own spectacle, twirling and dancing their way along with parades at night.
  • All out partying and revelry:
    Yup. Though you probably don’t think of Mardi Gras without thinking New Orleans, they aren’t the only ones in the celebrating. Lafayette and Lake Charles, Louisiana hold 2-week long Mardi Gras festivals complete with parades, parties, and costumes. During that time, Lake Charles also does it up right with their World Famous Cajun Extravaganza and Gumbo Cook Off. Mardi Gras has been declared an official holiday in the state of Louisiana.

Mobile, Alabama


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has claim to the oldest carnival celebrations 1703 with its own Carnival Museum that shares their history with Mardi Gras. Meanwhile, St. Louis says that they have the second biggest Mardi Gras celebration in the country, beat out only by New Orleans. Restaurants serve New Orleans style cuisine while the partying goes on with parades and balls. Orlando, Florida’s Universal Studies throws a mega-party that lasts 50 nights, complete with a parade each night and massive concerts. San Diego boasts the biggest Mardi Gras celebration on the West Coast complete with over-the-top floats and huge masquerade parades.

The Mardi Gras Celebrations Heard Round the World


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  • United States
    – isn’t the only country that carries the Mardi Gras torch, many other countries hold festivities as well. Most famous is probably Rio De Janeiro’s wild Carnevale spectaculars that attract 2 million revelers to its annual blow-out. The revelry is so epic that it can be heard all the way across the Rio during peak party times.
  • Venice, Italy
    – has been in on the Carnevale action since the 12 th century, bringing 3 million revelers into the city each year. Locals wear traditional masks creatively made out of just about any material they can think of with masqueraders competing in front of judges for who wore it best.
  • French Quebec
    – carries on the tradition through their Winter Carnival, complete with fun arctic activities like icy canoe racing on the St. Lawrence River, gigantic snow sculptures, and the blasting of the red trumpet.
  • Copenhagen Denmark
    – is new to the Mardi Gras game, starting their tradition in 1982. They include traditional elements of Mardi Gras but also celebrate with one of the largest music festivals in the world. Various stages are set up throughout the city to hold the 120 bands that play and thousands of dancers that entertain the 100,000 + attendees.
  • Nice, France
    – is very nice that time of year, incorporating tradition flower parades covered in beautiful petals and paraders who wear matching colors. The parades often have elaborate and pretty unique themes, rolling on through the city day and night.
  • Canary Islands
    – love their Carnival Queen, holding a Grand Carnival Queen contest where all the young ladies wear humungous and completely spectacular customs and headdresses (some weighing more than 50 pounds!).
  • Trinidad and Tobago
    – throw highly energetic celebrations that not only include traditional brightly colored costumes but they also include exciting stick fights and fierce limbo competitions.

Well, when is Mardi Gras?


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Since it’s always the Tuesday before Lent, the date varies. In 2019 it will be held on March 5 th . If you are planning for the future, 2020’s celebrations culminate on Tuesday, February 25, and in 2021 you’ll want to make plans for February 16 th . Mardi Gras is full of religious and historical significance and high-spirited revelry. Bright colors, grandiose costumes, dancing, parades, and all-out partying are the hallmarks of Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans and around the world. If you want to find out some of the best ways to celebrate, check out our blog to see how you can party with the best of em’.

What Is A Second Line Parade?

Often seeming to appear out of nowhere and full of vibrant energy, second line parades have been likened to a raucous, moving block party. With roots that span centuries, you’ll find these festive marches that had their birth in New Orleans to be wonderfully spirited processions that are quite the sight to behold (and even more amazing to join).

 

What exactly makes up a second line parade? Who marches in one? How did they begin and where can you find them today? You’ll find the answers to these questions and other interesting facts when you keep reading below.

What exactly is a second line parade?

 

Though different aspects of the second line parade may vary slightly or be given unique touches by the creative characters who form it, you’ll always find certain tried and true components in a second line parade.

 

To begin with, a second line parade would be nothing without a brass band to take the musical lead. You’ll find trumpets or tubas acting as heralds to announce the approach of the procession. Two different kinds of drummers establish the rhythm. The first is usually drumming out a typical marching brass band beat and the other, the snare drummer, adds a more creative element, often improvising patterns and beats on the fly and according to their own unique style.

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ZURICH – AUGUST 1: Swiss National Day parade on August 1, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. Parade opening with Zurich city orchestra

 

The music played by the band is in itself a beautiful fusion of traditions and culture. Amidst the inherently jazzy sound, you can hear glimpses of sound that mix standard marching music, African American gospel, and Caribbean rhythms, along with spiritual and secular black slave dances.


The revelers who make up the second line add their own flavor to the parade. They add beats by clapping their hands, bottles, sticks, or anything else they can make into an improvised instrument. This mix of beats and personal stylings lend a one-of-a-kind sound to each parade, making them all distinctive in their own right.

 

 The term “second line” originally referred to those that joined in behind the band, but it has since evolved to really encapsulate the whole event. Though traditionally second line parades honor a specific person, as time passed, the fun could no longer be contained to only specific events, like weddings, corporate events, festivals, and holidays. Many will find that nowadays, a second line parade is not for a particular purpose or tied to an event, but often they are held just for the sheer joy of it.

 

Who makes up a second line parade?

 

If there is a second line to the parade, it makes sense that there has to be a first line, doesn’t it? Traditionally, the parade was hosted by a neighborhood organization or social club and usually comprised of multiple generations of family members, friends, and neighbors. These hosts would be in the first line along with the band and headed up by the honoree(s) (such as a bride and groom).

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The second line is comprised of pretty much anyone else sporting enough to join the festivities. Second lines are very inclusive and welcome any and all who can’t resist joining in and can keep up with the intense energy.  These ones march, dance, and strut in step with the music but behind the honorees, band, and hosts in the first line. Second liners are far from being an unimportant element to the parade as their enthusiastic movements add to the liveliness and fun of the event.

History of the second line parade


Though they are more direct descendants of New Orleans famous jazz funerals (minus the casket and mourners), second line parades have a much longer heritage, incorporating traditions that go back several centuries. In fact, a number of scholars have traced elements of second line parades back to the traditions of West African tribes and Caribbean festival culture. More than just having a good time, these parades are part of a long-standing heritage that has been carried on through the music and dancing of second lines.

 

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Barranquilla , Colombia – February 25, 2017 : people participating at the parade of the carnival festival of Barranquilla Atlantico Colombia

 

In the area where second line parades began, slaves were given more personal freedoms than in other areas. In fact, they often had the weekends off in order to leave the plantation and gather with others. In New Orleans, these gatherings usually took place at Congo Square.

More than just hanging out and socializing, slaves often brought instruments such as drums, banjos, violins, and other instruments. They would play traditional African music while others would perform cultural dances, often with a spiritual undertone.


From this, they were able to build a kind of community that would help preserve their native heritage. In time, support groups were formed (referred to as societies or clubs). One element that all these societies had in common was performing processionals that became the framework of second line parades.

 

Second line parades emerged close to the same time that brass bands made it to the states—generally somewhere in the earlier to mid-19th century. Brass bands would create a procession (often for a funeral) as they played music through the streets. The African American societies began to adapt their traditional processionals to blend in the music of the European brass bands that had become so popular during the time.

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Young African American males began following these processions, adding in their own elements or dramatically mimicking the first line. Danny Barker, an early 20th-century jazz musician, said that these boys were so ‘delighted by the music that they would gather to dance and strut in tempo and emulate the motions of the musicians and Grand Marshal’. In this way, the second line parade became a way for young African Americans to socialize and express their culture.

Musician and jazz historian Dr. Michael White said of the earlier second line parades that “the social and spiritual dimensions of the jazz culture became especially evident in processions – parades by benevolent societies (also called ‘social and pleasure clubs’), church parades, and jazz funerals – where large segments of the community would gather in an almost religious- like ‘celebration’ to commemorate special events and occasions (or just to gather in revelry ‘for no reason at all’).”

 

As joyous second liners added a more celebratory feel to the processions, they gradually began to move away from a more formal style into one that took on a feel of jubilant fun.

Second Line Parades and Wedding Traditions

 

Weddings are festive and celebratory, and brides and grooms often choose to express their joy in the form of second line parades held after ceremonies, during receptions, or at the end of the night to help bring a fantastic party to a spectacular close.

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The bride and groom are honorees in this case, so they lead the first line along with the brass band. Traditionally they may hold a decorative parasol or umbrella, easily followed as they front the march. Second liners join by forming a line behind the couple, dancing and strutting to the music while waving handkerchiefs or napkins.


Some couples go the extra mile by making personalized handkerchiefs as party favors, used by guests to wave during the procession. Some personalize highly-decorative parasols and canes for the wedding party to use in the march, and others hand out beads and other like favors to help foster the revelry.

 

For added flair, a newly married couple might hire Mardi Gras Indians to march in their parade. These wear colorful, elaborate costumes and headdresses, turning the second line parade into a living work of art and culture. It also helps in creating some stunning wedding day photos for the bride and groom.

 

Then there are couples who decide to take their celebration to the streets. It is not uncommon to find a second line wedding parade dancing their way through the streets of New Orleans. Police on motorcycles clear a path on the parade route, blaring their sirens in announcement of the honorees. Tourists and natives—pretty much anyone along the route—are welcome to join in the celebratory march which usually lasts from 5-8 blocks (about 20-30 minutes).


Although the second line wedding parade is seen as a New Orleans tradition, the fun has spread out beyond the boundaries of the city so that second line parades can be enjoyed during wedding festivities in just about any part of the country.

 

Second Line Parades and Funeral

While we’ve discussed how the second line parade is such a joyful event, it might seem odd to incorporate such a festive event into a funeral. However, the concept of a funeral procession is not new by any means. In fact, it has been a long-standing aspect of burial traditions in many cultures, including the West African cultures that so heavily influenced the characteristics of the second line parades (though it mixes in European and Anglo-American burial traditions as well).

Many view it as a ‘celebration of life at the moment of death’. Traditionally, funeral processions were held for prominent black male members of a community, often times a musician (who was appropriately “buried with music”). Following the adage “solemn music on the way to the grave and happy music on return”, the parade would make its way to the grave with the more typical sounds that would be found in a funeral—those of mourning and grieving.

 

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However, after the body was laid to rest at the grave (or symbolically “cut loose”), the band would begin to play up-tempo music as a celebration of life. As the musical procession left the cemetery, second-liners would join behind and begin to dance to the more festive music, turning the funeral into a street celebration.

The spread and musical evolution of second line parades

With its brass band sounds being so closely tied to jazz and other musical genres that evolved from it (like funk and rock and roll), it is no surprise that there would be a widespread influence. Jazz legend Louie Armstrong and the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown are among the many who have spread the music inherent in second line parades to people around the world. In fact, it’s a fundamental aspect of many international jazz styles today, not to mention the influence it has had on other musical genres.

 

The 20th century saw a great evolution in its musical landscape, and the second line has adapted accordingly. Its music has seamlessly absorbed the musical genres of the day—be it swing, jump blues, rhythm & blues, or rock and roll—and made it its own. Second line musicians have added their creative twists by mixing genres and boldly experimenting with new styles created from the traditional ones.

 

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Musicians select their instruments in the air

 

In recent years, second lines still have a hold on hearts and minds and have been used to express triumph. One example of this was after the catastrophic devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans rallied in the way they knew best. A mock jazz funeral was organized, complete with a second line, to symbolize the “death” of the hurricane. It was also a call to all who left the city to return to the rich heritage of their home.

Even though second line parades are closely linked to New Orleans and its rather unique traditions, the fun and festive atmosphere that it fosters have universal appeal. People everywhere want to experience the joy and celebration, and second line parades give the freedom to experience it all.

A Complete Guide to Planning Your Wedding Parade

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

Having a wedding parade on your big day will definitely be one of those memorable moments that you and your wedding guests will never forget.

Well, it turns out, that putting together a wedding parade is easier to pull off than you might think.

To help you have an awesome experience, I’ve put together this handy guide of 11 insanely actionable tips to assist you through every step of the process.

The History of The Second Line March

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Wedding parades, which are more commonly called second-line marches, have been an important tradition in the United States since before the Civil War.

Can you believe that?

A second-line march consists of two lines:

The first line is made up of the bride, groom, and a brass band or grand marshall.

The second line is made up of the rest of the revelers (the wedding party and your guests).

Because of the excitement that married couples get when they’re dancing through their city with their loved ones, it’s easy to see why this tradition is as popular as it’s ever been.

These marches are thrilling, spontaneous-feeling celebrations.

But, to make sure everything goes smoothly, you’ll need to do a bit of advance planning.

You’ll want to get your route in order, get your guests well-prepared, and make sure everything, and everyone, is photo-ready.

1. Consider Your Parade Route Options and Permit Requirements

The first step in planning your wedding parade is figuring out your parade location.

There are two options for your procession:

Option 1 – You can get a permit and parade through the streets.

Option 2 – Have your parade on a sidewalk, in a park, on the beach, or in a more unique setting.

Have your wedding parade on the sidewalk

Parading in the street is the more traditional of the two options.

But that’s not always possible in every city or for every route, so using the sidewalk or one of the other recommended parade location ideas can be a great alternative.

If you do have your heart set on being in the middle of the street, then check with your city and make sure that permits are available for your planned route so you can get that party-in-the-street moment you’re dreaming of.

If you do need to get a permit, make sure you do so early.

Don’t wait.

The moment you’ve got your wedding and reception spots booked, decide on a parade route and get your permit.

Not only are there time requirements for getting permits, like 30-90 days for approvals, you may also need to comply with other laws specific to your city.

For example, wedding parades in New Orleans not only have be permitted, they also have to hire police escorts and pay a small city tax.

And in San Francisco, you’ll need to get your parade permit well in advance, pay for insurance, and pay an application fee that varies depending on how early to you requested your permit.

Planning ahead and getting your permit early allows you to comply with all your city’s requirements in plenty of time for your parade.

2. Avoid Route Roadblocks

After you have picked the type of parade you want to have, make sure you’re extremely familiar with the route you’ve decided on ahead of time.

You don’t want to take a wrong turn or get lost during the parade.

A day or two before your big day, make sure to check for any literal roadblocks like construction, or blocked streets, and identify if traffic, police, or other crowds of people will deter you from having your parade.

A Grand Marshall leading a second line parade

For this same reason, you should make sure your band also knows your route as well.

If you want to be even more confident that your parade route will stay on track, you could also consider hiring a grand marshall, which is a common choice in cities like New Orleans.

A grand marshall is an energetic parade leader, usually a relative or if you can swing it, a city local, who can help to both keep your parade en route and hype up your crowd.

3. Be Mindful of Distance

There’s one more thing you need to consider when planning your route:

Distance.

Choosing the right distance for your wedding parade is essential.

On average, a wedding parade takes place over 4-6 blocks, with longer parades taking place over 7-10 blocks.

Depending on pace and stops, this tends to translate to 15-30 minutes.

Here’s the deal:

Some people may not be able to walk quickly or over long distances.

Your grandparents or other elderly or disabled guests might not be able to march in your parade.

Use a pedi cab for a second line march

A great option for including anyone who can’t cover the parade distance is to hire a few pedicabs for these guests.

That way, they can still participate in the parade by holding down the back of the line, or joining you up in the front, and celebrating in a way that’s comfortable for them.

Pedicabs are extremely mobile, are good for off-roading (if you’re doing your parade somewhere other than a street) and typically cost $8-20.

4. Have Help For Any Crossings / Bring up the Rear

Now:

Make sure that you have some help on hand if your route includes any road crossings.

Guests will be giddy and excited during the parade— and some may have already started celebrating with a few drinks.

Enlisting some of your groomsmen or bridesmaids (or one of your cousins that always wants to lend a hand) to help your excited guests cross the street will keep things organized and safe.

Ask your helpers to wear easy-to-spot, bright crosswalk shirts so everyone knows that they’re there to direct traffic.

Additionally, your guides can help stop any back-of-the-line lagging.

As you know, everyone moves at a different pace.

Some of your guests, who will be more focused on talking to friends and family that they haven’t seen in a while, will probably linger back a bit too long.

Solve this by letting your helpers know that you want to keep things moving and they can ensure you won’t end up waiting for ages for these slow pokes to bring up the rear.

5. Get A Great Band

Traditionally, a brass band leads a wedding parade.

And it’s important to remember that, just like when you book live music for your wedding reception, you should book your band for your second-line march well in advance.

If the wedding reception band that you’re hiring can perform while walking, then this can be the same group.

Otherwise, you’ll need to find a brass band or marching band.

If you want to make sure that the brass band you’re about to hire is legit, you’ll want to first ask the band about their experience leading parades.

Brass animals leading a wedding parade

If leading a parade is something that they’ve never done before, then consider hiring someone that used to performing in parades.

You should also make sure that they know plenty of wedding parade songs.

When The Saints Go Marching In is the most classic second-line march song.

If your band is able to play knows this song, then you should give them the green light.

6. Recommend Comfortable Footwear

Here’s a simple but often-overlooked tip:

flip flops for a wedding parade

Recommend to your guests that they wear comfortable footwear.

Dancing through the streets or on the hard pavement or in the dirt in heels can be very uncomfortable.

Let your guests know about the parade in advance and recommend that they wear or bring comfortable shoes like flip-flops or tennis shoes.

Then, hopefully, even your die-hard stiletto wearers will have stashed some flats in their purses so they can enjoy your parade to the fullest.

7. Be The Leader of Your Own Parade

As we mentioned earlier, the brass band or the grand marshall typically leads every wedding parade or second-line march.

But having the happy newlyweds lead the procession for part of the parade is something you must not forget to do.

Why?

Because it makes for incredible pictures.

Think about it.

Would you rather have pictures where you are sandwiched between the band and your guests?

No!

You should be the center of attention…

This means that you’ll need to plan to have a few moments where you and your new bride or groom are leading the way.

Take a look at this picture to see what I mean.

brass animals wedding photo

Tell me that that picture isn’t worth framing.

Be sure to let your photographer and videographer know that you’ll be leading a portion of the parade and they can be ready, front and center, to get you some amazing shots.

8. Kick Up the Fun and Be Photo-Ready With Party Favors

To make the parade even more exciting for everyone, consider passing out fun party favors for your guests to wear and wave during the street party.

beads and handkerchiefs for a wedding second line march

You can pass out:

Not only will these make the experience more entertaining and engaging for your guests, they will also liven up all of the photos and video your photographer and videographer are going to take.

Plus, if you’re willing to part with these inexpensive props (less than $100 for everything listed above on Amazon), they can also be great keepsakes for your guests to take home.

You can even personalize these party favors by adding your name and wedding date.

9. What’s the Rush? Take a Breather

Planning to take some breaks during your parade is important and practical.

Breaks are important for multiple reasons.

First, your guests might need to catch their breath, especially if you’ve opted for a longer route.

Also, people travel at different paces and it’s important to let the back of the line catch up with the crowd.

You’ll want everyone to be able to interact with the rest of the line and enjoy being in the front of the group.

Plus, if it’s hot outside, your guests will get tired more easily.

It’s important to let people rest and recover in hot weather.

If you know it’s going to be hot outside during your parade, it’s also a good idea to provide your guests with bottles of water so they can stay hydrated.

If you’re traveling in a straight line, you can take a break by simply pausing your forward motion and waiting in place for a bit.

But if you’re in a safe space, like a closed-off street, you can form a big dance circle and party while you wait for the rest of your guests to catch up.

10. Capture the Moment

One of the best things about wedding parades is the incredible pictures and videos you’re going to get during the procession.

wedding parade

A newly married couple leading a second line marchTo make sure you capture every exciting moment, you should consider how much coverage you’ll want.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to have just one photographer?
  • Or do you want to have multiple photographers capturing every angle?
  • Do you want to invest in a videographer to make sure you get some amazingly shot live footage of your parade?
  • Or is video less important to you?

Remember, this is a moment you’ll never forget.

Wedding parades are not only memorable, but they’re also symbolic of the exciting new life you’re starting with your new partner.

Make sure you capture the moment exactly the way you dreamed of.

One cool way to capture the moment is to ask your guests to pull out their phones, download the Veri app, and do some of the filming themselves.

Want to know the best part?

Not only will you get tons of awesome videos, but they will be from different parts of the line and from different perspectives.


As you watch all of the videos your guests took for you, you will no doubt get the feeling that you were walking with everyone regardless of where they were in the line.

You can then make a video of all of the snippets that you were given and turn it into one big nostalgia moment for you and your husband or wife.

11. Consider Onlookers

You might be wondering:

“How do I handle the strangers that will undoubtedly be curious to find out what we’re up to?”

If you’re doing a permitted, closed-off walk through the street, those people will likely remain just as onlookers.

But if you’re having your parade on an open city sidewalk or in a park, then these spectators might try to join in on the excitement.

For example, people might begin to follow your parade or you might get some honks from passing cars.


Some people might not care about this.

Maybe, to you, that sounds like it would make the occasion even more thrilling.

But if you don’t like the idea of being honked at or followed, it might be best for you to make sure you look into getting a more controlled, enclosed, permitted environment for your wedding parade.

Conclusion

There you have it:

11 steps for having the best wedding parade!

Which of these ideas do you think is the hardest to pull off? Are there any that we left out that we should’ve included?