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New Orleans' Second Line

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Published on Oct 17, 2007

September 30, 2007
Congo Square
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

When I die, throw me a party.

It's the only way it should be. Unless of course things, are um, tragic. But even then, like the ones who thought up jazz funerals so long ago will tell you, the dead are off to a better place. Pick up your feet, raise your hands and celebrate cause you'll see them on the other side.

I went to a second-line the other weekend, the formal name for a musical procession through the streets for an event or more historically to honor a fallen New Orleanian musician. They call it a second-line because the first line is typically the band and integral members of the deceases family and friend circle. The second line is the scrum of people--old and young friends and never-knew-hims who dance behind.

Sometimes, I hear, they last for miles.

The one I went to wasn't a celebration of a musician's life, it was kick-off of to a music festival--and my first time. I went telling everyone, "it's my first second line!"

Such a tourist.

A friend told me, "Do you see why New Orleans is worth saving?"

There is this old-guy in the band. I've seen him around town. He's always wearing a bowler's top hat, the one that famous pale white guy with the funky mustache wore. Charlie Chaplin? But this guy, a member of the famous Treme (Treh-May) brass band, he's cool. Cool, like only a guy who plays an instrument and knows it like an extension of his hands.

Many of the city's musicians have moved on, taking their acts to the clubs of Austin, Tex. or New York City, the time-zones have changed, not the spirit.

The ones who've made it back, like the members of the Treme Brass Band, including the bowler-top-hat-wearing-I'm 70-years-old and cooler than most gen-y'ers, have the soul of this city in their lungs, hands and feet. In New Orleans, people say, the music must continue, the show must go on.

This second line started at a church called St. Augustine. It ended in Congo Square, the section of land just outside the French Quarter where African slaves spent Sundays playing music and dancing in 18th Century French and Spanish controlled New Orleans.

It rained. People danced without regard. Others hid for cover.

This is New Orleans. And Austin, you can't beat it.


Best,

Robert

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