If you’re getting married in New Orleans, you’ve probably considered having a second line. This incredible tradition has a centuries-long history. In this post, I share a window into its history and six tips to help make your New Orleans second line a highpoint of your wedding.
While New Orleans second lines are popular across cultural groups, they have deep roots in Black culture. You can find similar processions across West Africa and the African Diaspora. When enslaved people were brought to Louisiana, they adapted their practices to their new context.
As early as the eighteenth century, free Black people formed mutual aid societies called social aid and pleasure clubs. These community organizations performed charitable works, including funding funerals for members. The funerals featured bands who would eventually incorporate jazz into their repertoire in the twentieth century. Eventually, the social aid and pleasure clubs began a tradition of second lines to celebrate their groups’ anniversaries. The popularity spread to other major events like birthdays and weddings.
(You can learn more about this rich history from the Historic New Orleans Collection.)
There are two times people typically hold a New Orleans second line during their weddings: in the daytime after the ceremony or at night at the close of the reception. As a photographer, I can tell you that you’re more likely to get better photos during the day. There’s plenty of natural light to work with. Remember that your photographer will be running around a crowd of people dancing down the street. It’s hard to set up complicated lighting.
If you want to capture the ambient charm of New Orleans, that’s easier during the day. The romantic French Quarter architecture and oak tree-lined avenues show up better in photos taken in daylight. On average, I deliver four times as many second line photos taken during the day as those taken at night.
From a safety perspective, walking dark New Orleans streets can be like hiking backcountry trails. There are potholes and cracks everywhere. Pair that with adult beverages in the dark, and someone is bound to roll an ankle.
The most fun and lively New Orleans second lines that I’ve been a part of are the ones where guests love their experience! That may sound obvious, but you can do some small things to facilitate the fun. Put a cooler of drinks at the starting point of your second line so people can begin cocktail hour on the move! For out of town guests used to open container laws, this is especially exciting.
Don’t let those who might need some assistance miss out on the fun! It’s definitely possible to make your New Orleans second line accessible for all of your guests. Luckily, New Orleans has plenty of pedicabs to help guests travel alongside your second line. Everyone can be included and have a top notch experience.
Speak with your brass band of choice about having them play a bit at the end of the ceremony. Alternatively, ask if they can stick around to get the cocktail hour started. This is a great way to infuse the sounds of New Orleans into your event. It also totally changes the vibe of cocktail hour to be a warm up for dancing after dinner. Everyone will be more relaxed from the start.
You can customize just about anything for your guests to carry during your wedding second line. Traditionally, people monogram handkerchiefs, but you can also order custom Mardi Gras beads. Having a favor like this can enhance your guests’ experience.
Usually, people get married in New Orleans because they love the city and its atmosphere. Why not capture that with some lightning-fast photo sessions along your second line route? Whether it’s with all of your guests or just the two of you kissing with everyone in the background, you’ll be glad you took some time to slow down to document that magic moment.
As a New Orleans wedding photographer, I’ve had the privilege of working with some incredible second line bands. Brass bands provide a soundtrack and breathe life into New Orleans weddings. Yes, they’re very cool, but they also work wild hours doing a physically demanding job in a subtropical climate. They’re hardworking, and they bring the party every time.
Here are a few of my favorites who perform at weddings:
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