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Your Second Line: A helpful planning guide

By Rena Sweeney, Alchemy Events 

Photos: The Swansons

For many couples, their wedding day is the perfect opportunity to do things they normally don’t get to –  wear that over-the-top outfit, go all out with your décor, star in your own parade!  Even if your dream wedding is a bit more subdued, a Second Line parade is a fun addition to any wedding and can actually be practical as well.  So as daunting as planning your own parade might seem, this guide will help you get through it without a worry. 


The “We Want Something Low-Key” Couple

Low-key couples wanting to incorporate this New Orleans tradition can easily do so by parading around the venue at the end of the reception, using the Second Line as a way to end the night on a high note. It’s also a great way to get guests moving and out of the space once the party has ended, making sure you won’t be stuck paying for additional time.  This is also the least expensive Second Line option as you don’t need permits or police escorts, just music and some accessories.  A Second Line band is always fun but you can always have your reception band or DJ play music instead of bringing in a separate group.   


The “We Want Something Fun but Also Logistically Helpful” Couple

Most couples doing Second Lines in New Orleans fall into this category.  You may need a way to move your guests from one location to another, or if you’re doing it all in one location, you may just need to get guests out of the venue for a while so your vendors can “flip the space” (vendor lingo for “break down the ceremony and re-set for the reception”).  This option does require permitting and police escorts but isn’t something that should be overwhelming.   The City of New Orleans has made the process streamlined through their One Stop Shop website at  Most parades will just need to fill out the Master Application along with Supplement C.  This will give you a permit for rolling street closures and allow your walking parade, as long as you aren’t throwing items to the general public.  Carrying your own drinks, guests wearing beads or waving hankies, etc. is all still permissible with just these two forms.   

Submit both forms along with a map of your proposed route to the City no less than 15 days prior to your requested event date. Submitting your application a few months ahead is ideal in case you hit any snags.  If your route poses any problems, they will let you know what similar route they will let you take.  A week or two before your wedding, the Office of Police Secondary Employment (OPSE) will contact you to confirm your police escort for the parade.  The fees for all of these will depend on factors such as how many guests are involved, the length of the parade, etc. Plan for at least $1,000 but be aware that costs can certainly go higher depending on the details of your parade. 


The “We Want An All Out Parade” Couple

If this is the moment you’ve been living for, there are some really fun additions you can make to your Second Line parade to really take it to the next level.  Many bands offer upgrades such as a Grand Marshall or even Mardi Gras Indians to lead your parade.  You can also hire an entertainment company to provide dancers, stilt walkers, big head revelers and more.  If you really want to make your parade stand out, you can also have throws to toss to the crowds that inevitably form and follow Second Lines.  If you do this, keep it simple by tossing regular or customized beads unless you have a coordinator or staffing to help with the logistics of transporting bags of throws.  If you throw items, you also have to contract with a company to come behind you for cleanup and you must provide that information to the City as well.  You can include cars in the parade, special effects, pyrotechnics or fire jugglers which need additional forms to be submitted, but is a process the One Stop Shop website will walk you through. 


The Accessories & Details

If you want printed Second Line hankies or umbrellas, many local companies such as Backyard Printing can help you personalize them.  One way I love to incorporate the “something borrowed” wedding tradition in a New Orleans way is to borrow your umbrellas from a friend or family member, as many people buy them but then never have the chance to reuse them.  Personalized plastic cups for your guests’ drinks, personalized beads and many other fun options can also add to the fun while acting as favors for your guests.  Just keep in mind that glass containers are not allowed on the streets.   

My final piece of advice is a reminder not to overlook a very important question:  What else is happening in the city on the same day?  Make sure to check a local event calendar such as for information on other events, parades, marathons or festivals that might be happening on the same day in your area of town.  A conflicting event could result in having to adjust your wedding day schedule or having your application denied if another event is already on the books. 


Follow these easy instructions and advice, and laissez le bon temps rouler! 

A wedding second line parade in the New Orleans French Quarter. Photo by The Swansons
A wedding second line parade in the New Orleans French Quarter. Photo by The Swansons

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