Friday the 13th was a lucky day for most New Orleanians. First, there was the good news that quarterback Drew Brees finally signed his contract with the Saints. Even without our coach, now we can go back to believing that we could have the first team to ever play a Super Bowl on their own turf. Geaux Saints! Who Dat!?!
It was raining cats as we made our way to Tuba Fats Square in the Treme, a memorial square dedicated to the preservation of music from the historic Treme neighborhood, the first black suburb in America. Musicians played in the crowded Candlelight Lounge next door, the home of Uncle Lionel‘s regular Wednesday gig with the Treme Brass Band, as people from all over the city gathered to second line in memory of their favorite Uncle.
Second lines usually include umbrellas, but most were more decorative than functional, despite the downpour. Singing and dancing in the rain is par for the course in New Orleans. Even the encroaching thunder and lightening couldn’t scare the growing crowd away.
A funeral commemorates someone’s death but a memorial second line celebrates their life and their influence on the community. Uncle Lionel is a well celebrated man. And he should be. He brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. His facebook fan page lists sentiments from as far away as Norway, Australia, France and Belgium among many other nations and dozens of cities in the U.S. Every time I saw him around town, like so many others, I couldn’t resist greeting him and he always put a smile on my face. His drum beat the pulse of this city, his style inspired us all (I wore my fleur de lis bracelet across my left hand at the second line as he had always worn his watch) and he even had flair when holding a go-cup (as if it had a handle, with his thumb on the lip and his pinky underneath the cup). He had a way with the ladies and men couldn’t help but respect him.
Though the second line is mostly a celebration, I’ll admit to getting overwhelmed with emotion as the band struck up I’ll Fly Away and got the line rolling. My tears blended with rain but, as the tempo picked up, the sun poked out of the clouds. People on the highway saw a huge rainbow that looked like it was emanating from the Superdome. We street revelers may have missed the rainbow, but we enjoyed parading through the Treme down to Rampart, clothes dripping with rain and sweat with a song on our lips and Uncle Lionel in our hearts.
There were two makeshift brass bands, one at the beginning of the line and another at the end, comprised of musicians from a variety of bands. Many people wore white, as Uncle Lionel had requested. In a city where community is king, one of my favorite things about second lines is the hugging. I ran into over half a dozen friends and acquaintances and I didn’t even grow up here.
The second line was permitted officially and the streets had been closed to make way, but as we meandered down Rampart toward Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club, we crossed the neutral ground and walked straight into oncoming traffic. Parades often hold up traffic here. While my mom and stepdad were visiting recently, they had to wait for a parade of empty floats being moved from one location to another. There are wedding or funeral second lines and parades of all ilk throughout the city at all times, many without announced road closures, so people are used to finding themselves waiting patiently until the festivities pass. That said, we don’t usually wander through traffic. Many drivers bopped along with our music and some abandoned their cars in the street and joined the party. Amazingly, as far away as Norway and Sweden, people took to the streets to remember Uncle Lionel.
Though we had to get home, the party continued at Sweet Lorraine’s. The lucky Friday the 13th ended with fireworks over the river. The display was meant to commemorate Bastille Day, but I liked thinking it was in honor of Uncle Lionel’s spectacular life and celebration of Drew Brees finally signing his contract. I think Uncle Lionel would’ve loved the whole shebang.