Tips for Your New Orleans Second Line

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.

A trombone player lifts his horn at a wedding parade.

The New Orleans Second Line: A Wedding Tradition with Deep Roots

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. 

A man dances in social aid and pleasure club regalia.
A brass band plays in a French Quarter street.

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.)

A brass band walks into a wedding venue.
A man plays a tuba with a mask around his chin.

6 Tips for Your Wedding Second Line

1. Have your second line during the day.

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. 

A bride twirls her skirt during a second line.
A couple walks down Esplanade with their wedding second line.

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.

A New Orleans second line wanders through the French Quarter.
A couple walks down steps at Crescent Park.
A couple walks in front of a brass band carrying parasols.

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. 

Women in wedding dresses wal  in front of a brass band past a historic building.

2. Have drinks ready for your guests.

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.

A wedding guest wearing Mardi Gras beads holds a cocktail.
A bride raises a lace wedding umbrella.
A wedding guest holds a novelty go cup.

3. Hire a pedicab for guests who might have difficulty walking long distances.

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.

A pedicab pulls a wedding guest beside the second line.
A New Orleans second line passes with a pedicab.

4. Book extra time with the band.

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.

A brass band plays at cocktail hour for a wedding.
A brass band lines up against a fence at a wedding reception.
A New Orleans second line band plays during a first dance.

5. Bring fun props for your guests!

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.

Bridesmaids wave handkerchief at a New Orleans second line.
A man jumps in the air waving a handkerchief.

6. Plan some pauses for quick photo sessions.

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.

A couple kisses in front of their wedding parade.
Two women lean on each other surrounded by wedding guests.

My Favorite New Orleans Second Line Bands

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.

A brass band plays from a white porch.
A second line begins at the end of a wedding ceremony.

 Here are a few of my favorites who perform at weddings:

  • Knockaz Brass Band: This group knows how to keep the party going with a mix of traditional jazz and funk. 
  • Kinfolk Brass Band: Kinfolk formed in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. They have published CDs with original music and are a wedding favorite. 
  • Young Fellaz Brass Band: Young Fellaz also has put out albums that mix the old and new of New Orleans music. They’re festival regulars.
  • Paulin Brothers Brass Band: This band embraces traditional New Orleans second line music. Several band members are actually the sons of “Doc” Paulin, a mainstay of New Orleans brass band music for over 70 years. 
  • Crescent City Soul: Crescent City Soul advertises themselves as a band that gets your guests partying, and they don’t disappoint!
A brass band member sings in front of the other musicians.
A brass band plays beneath oak trees.

Were these tips helpful? I love helping my wedding photography clients create unforgettable experiences with their weddings. Check out Where to Get Ready for Your New Orleans Wedding!

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