The New Orleans Jazz Funeral procession has roots in traditional West Africa dances, with a tinge of voodoo. Brought to New Orleans by slaves, large traditional dances were held in Congo Square and were often squashed by various white leaders of the city. These illicit dances evolved into the famed Jazz Funeral during the early 1900’s and has since morphed into The Second Line; basically a neighborhood parade, half jazz march, half Soul Train ramble around the city.
Community groups mobilize friends and family, organize large marching bands, obtain a permit and plan the route through the city. This route is only announced the night before, a top-secret tradition. The parade can last hours, travel many miles, and have numerous pit stops. The parade this Sunday afternoon was slated to start at noon at the downtown Hilton. As we approached the hotel, we realized this wasn’t going to be your typical parade; There were already two large trailers with oil can smokers selling BBQ, and plenty of coolers full of beer and soda.
Outside the lobby doors, the rag-tag band milled about, instruments in one hand, beer in the other. The crowd of locals started to build up; they parted at the entrance of the hotel, forming a corridor with some holding a thin rope to keep the front row rabid fans at bay. The band slowly got organized and started to play, a funky up-tempo loud jazz. The Parade Marshals emerged from the hotel one by one strutting their stuff and throwing down dance moves, gliding and jiving: the crowd went nuts!
Within a few minutes the crazy parade was on the move. Dancing marshals first, band second, crowd third, two guys with large beer-filled coolers next up, all followed by our police car escort.
The parade snaked through town picking up followers along the way, stopping occasionally for a hoe-down; the band would stop marching, and start to play crazy loud; everyone was dancing and jumping around. Then the parade suddenly headed down a side street and stopped at a small intersection for a longer break, the first of many along the route.
There was a small bar on one corner and a few ‘bar cars’ parked in the street. One of these was doing brisk business; a guy with his pick-up, liquor bottle lined up on the roof of the cab. He had a wad of cash in one hand and a megaphone in the other, taking orders and furiously making cocktails in plastic cups; Only in New Orleans.