Like New Orleans, second-line parades struggle but survive

Sat Aug 29, 2015 11:06am EDT
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By Edward McAllister

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - It is fitting that the "second line" parade, a central pillar of New Orleans African-American musical tradition, is playing a prominent role in the events marking the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago.

Like New Orleans, the marching brass bands and the colorful crowds they attract are survivors whose status is more celebrated than ever: a parade on Saturday in the blighted Lower Ninth Ward, accompanied by some of the city's best known brass bands, has been billed as the biggest in the Big Easy yet.

Even so, the parade tradition has struggled since the 2005 storm, according to organizers. Higher parade fees, proposed new rules and a shortage of musical talent since a post-Katrina exodus put one of the city's most treasured cultural traditions at risk.

Any threat to second-line parades is a threat to New Orleans itself, say the people behind the city's Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs. These organizations apply for permits from the city, organize police escorts, hire bands and raise money - sometimes up to $20,000 - for their specific neighborhood parade.

The struggle of putting parades together in often poor neighborhoods has long tied communities together, organizers say. But the task has become more difficult since Katrina.

"The city wants the visitors to have a good time this Saturday. We are putting on a nice show for everyone - a fake show," said Tamara Jackson, president of the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force, a group that supports the tradition of second-line parades.

Jackson, alongside the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, sued the city in 2006 when it increased fees to pay for heightened security after a parade shooting. The city backed down, but the fees - more than $2,000 for a police escort - remain far higher than before Katrina.

The city has sought to impose zoning laws that could restrict parade routes. Food and drinks vendors that typically come out on the parade route now must pay for permits.   Continued...

The Kinfolk Brass Band performs at a Make It Right Foundation function marking the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana August 29, 2015.  REUTERS/Edmund D. Fountain