The first time I heard that it was possible to have your own parade in New Orleans, I was doing research for a friend’s bachelor party. Let’s just say I reacted less like a 30-something guy and more like a 10-year-old girl — which is to say, very enthusiastically.
Organizing the parade was a challenge, and in true New Orleans fashion we had to cheat a little to get it approved. (Not to mention that it rained on us for the entire parade.) But at a total cost of under $1,000 for our party of six, I’m going to declare a French Quarter brass band parade to be a true bucket-list experience that anyone should consider for their own special event.
Let’s go over the logistics for the parade, step by step:
Fill out and mail the parade permit application
You’ll need to visit the New Orleans One Stop event site to determine what kind of permit to apply for. With an alphabet soup of supplement pages, this can be confusing to navigate, but if you answer the questions on the Master Application as we did, you should know what kind of parade you’re looking for. There are different categories for parades, like ones that sell products or require closing down a street, for example. Our parade was about the simplest kind possible — a second line parade, which is a local NOLA traditional bass band parade — so we only had to fill out a supplement for live music.
Our brass band leads the way as we boogie down the parade route. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
Here’s what almost cost us the parade before we even got to New Orleans: We blew our deadline. You’re required to mail your application 15 days before the parade date, and I gave myself a face-palm when I saw that we had just 12 days to go.
So, just between us, I mayyyyyybe backdated our application by a few days. But you didn’t hear that from me. The cost of the permit: $50.25.
Staying dry as we chatted up our escort before the parade. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
Arrange payment for a police escort
It wasn’t until the day before our flight that we got confirmation from the NOLA police that our escort was reserved. The typical cost for a parade is $100 per police officer, with the number of officers rising accordingly with the number of partiers. They gave us three officers for a party of six guys, which seemed like more protection than we needed. But when you consider that your party may grow rapidly as you strut your way down your parade route, at least you’ll know you’re covered. Total price for the police: $325.
Also of note: You’ll need to tell the police ahead of time where your beginning and end points will be. In our case, we began at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel and ended at the Bourbon House restaurant on Bourbon Street, half a mile away.
Hire a brass band
This isn’t mandatory, but why wouldn’t you have a brass band in New Orleans? If you’re not making a spectacle of yourself, you’re simply not trying here. This also took until the last minute to arrange because not only were we procrastinating, but we were also visiting during one of the city’s busiest events, the French Quarter Festival.
No umbrellas necessary for the band. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
With some negotiation, we were able to book a local band called Lagniappe for $400 for 30 minutes, and we tipped them an extra $80. You may have to pay more or less, depending on your timing and parade length.
That brought our costs to a grand total of $855.25 — divided six ways, that’s a way better deal than blowing all your money on hurricanes and gumbo (though truth be told, we had those in abundance, too). I spent an extra $10 on Oakland Raiders beads for our man of honor, Scott, who bleeds silver and black.
Commitment to excellence … and wearing beads. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
There was the added expense of having to buy umbrellas at the last minute — this being spring in New Orleans, the rain comes and goes, and it decided to arrive just as we took to the streets. But one man’s umbrella is another man’s parasol, and they were handy dancing props for those of us who didn’t want to get soaked.
Our police escort couldn’t have been friendlier, and we chatted them up as we waited for the band to arrive. When I asked one officer how tolerant they are of rowdier parties than ours, he said they can handle quite a lot: “The big parade parties usually show up loaded.”
What we lacked in raucousness we made up for in style: We agreed in advance to all wear suits. Again, you’ve got to go big in the Big Easy.
Some cheerleaders from above. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
Dusk was setting in as we approached Bourbon Street, and seeing the neon lights reflect off the slick pavement added a certain magic to the scene. As long as I didn’t slip and fall on my suit.
If the rain had any impact, it was on the size of our parade: We had visions of the entire French Quarter hitching onto the caboose of our party train as we boogied along our route to classic New Orleans songs. In reality, nobody wanted to get drenched with a bunch of badly dancing white guys no matter how well the band played, though we still threw beads at everyone who cheered us on from the sidelines.
Our destination in sight. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
But as we pulled up to our destination point and Lagniappe played “When the Saints Come Marching In,” we finally drew a crowd. And Scott actually danced a little, which he hasn’t done since the Raiders last made the playoffs. (That’s a long time ago.)
“I should walk to work like this every day,” Scott joked during our parade route. I can’t argue with that: I can still hear the band playing in my head now that I’m back, and the experience gave me a new appreciation of New Orleans’ spirit. Whether for a party or for fetching a carton of milk at the store, everything’s better when it’s a parade.