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In the Streets at Jazz Fest: Social Aid & Pleasure Club Parades, Weekend 1

Social aid and pleasure club parades during Jazz Fest are a great way to check out a bite-sized piece of something that makes New Orleans one of the most unique places on earth.

Social aid and pleasure clubs have a centuries-long history in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell)

Music here is a communal, participatory endeavor – a fact that’s exemplified when brass bands and throngs of dancers take to the streets on Sundays for a social aid and pleasure club’s (SAPC) annual parade. Dressed in coordinated colors and wielding fans and banners, the SAPCs dedicate four hours — and seemingly bottomless stores of energy — to busting moves alongside their brass band (or bands) of choice ahead of a “second line” of celebrants.

The tradition dates back to the 1800s when African-American communities were barred from accessing health and life insurance plans. They joined forces to create community organizations that supported families in need of help with medical care or burial costs. The annual parades functioned in part as advertising for the organizations, which often provided jazz funeral parades when a member of the community passed.

The SAPC parades are a great way to check out a bite-sized piece of something that makes New Orleans one of the most unique places on earth.

A jazz funeral for musician Uncle Lionel Batiste with the Treme Brass Band and friends during the 2013 Jazz Fest. (Photo courtesy of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell)
A jazz funeral for musician Uncle Lionel Batiste with the Treme Brass Band and friends during the 2013 Jazz Fest. (Photo courtesy of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell)

Today, some of the clubs focus on the camaraderie and dancing afforded by the annual parades, while others, like the historic Young Men Olympians Jr. Benevolent Association and the five divisions it comprises, still provide social aid services to the neighborhoods where they’re based.

At the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, Norman Dixon, Jr. manages the fund set up in his father’s name to give parade clubs a chance to strut their stuff on the Fairgrounds.

While the Jazz and Heritage Stage and Economy Hall tent provide eight hours of daily programming anchored by brass bands and the essential other half of New Orleans street culture, Mardi Gras Indians, the parades at the Fest offer a visitors a taste of one of New Orleans’ most essential cultural traditions.

Here are a few parade highlights to look for the first weekend at the Fest.

Jazz Fest Social Aid & Pleasure Club Parades: Weekend 1

Keep-N-It-Real, The Perfect Gentlemen, and We Are One Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs with New Wave Brass Band

Friday, April 28, 12:20 p.m.

For more than a decade, Keep-N-It-Real’s been showing off its club members’ phenomenal footwork with parades through the 6th and 7th wards. The club’s annual parades usually start on the banks of the bayou and wrap up at their current headquarters, Good Times II on Conti Street, near the intersection of N. Dupre Street.

Formed as an offshoot of the Revolution, a parade club known for its complex costumes and multiple mid-route costume changes, Keep-N-It-Real often stops by Revolution’s home base during its annual parade for a respectful shout-out.

Here, they head out with the New Wave Brass Band, which prides itself on “smooth arrangements” of second line classics. Keep-N-It-Real will also parade with two Uptown clubs, the Perfect Gentlemen SA&PC, which celebrated its 25th year in 2016, and We Are One.

Pete Fountain Jazz Funeral with the Half-Fast Walking Club and the Storyville Stompers 

Saturday, April 29, 1:20 p.m.

When New Orleans jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain passed away on Aug. 6, 2016, he left a legacy that extended beyond his music and into the streets, courtesy of his Half-Fast Walking Club, the Mardi Gras krewe Fountain and his friends started in 1960. The group traditionally sets out for their Mardi Gras morning stroll in front of Commander’s Palace. From there, they take a leisurely “walk” — rather than an energetic march — through the streets.

This year, Fountain’s son-in-law and manager Benny Harrell led the krewe, which hits the Fairgrounds to pay tribute to their longtime leader’s memory led by traditional New Orleans brass band the Storyville Stompers.

Da Knockaz Brass Band with Big Steppers, The Furious Five, and Untouchables Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs 

Sunday, April 24, 2:30 p.m.

Here’s another second line dance history lesson for ya. When the Young Men Olympians roll out on their annual parades (they’re the only group that stages two parades a year; more on that below), their fifth division brings up the rear. That group, the Furious Five, was long associated with Rebirth Brass Band, who accompanied them on the streets during parades when the Rebirth was revolutionizing brass band music in the ‘80s.

As Norman Dixon, Jr., once explained, “when the music changes, the dancing’s got to change.” The Furious Five are known for helping to engineer some of those changes, launching into wilder moves and showing off steps to the Rebirth’s faster beats.

Fun fact: Before the Revolution SA&PC spawned Keep-N-It-Real, a group of Furious Five members broke off to form the Revolution in the ‘90s, making the Furious Five the granddaddies of Keep-N-It-Real.

Along with the Big Steppers and the Untouchables, the Furious Five are set to parade with the three-year-old Da Knockaz Brass Band, which mixes funk and gogo music with more traditional New Orleans second line sounds.

First Division, New Look and Young Men Olympia Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs with the Tornado Brass Band

Sunday, April 24, 4:20 p.m.

While the fifth division (Furious Five) prides itself on modernizing second line dance styles and music, the Young Men Olympians’ First Division is tasked with heralding the more traditional aspects of the parades, from the black and white uniforms they generally wear to the more traditional bands they hire. The First Division also boasts some experienced, high-profile members like trumpeter Gregg Stafford, who helped found the traditionalist SA&PC, the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club, in 1993. They hit the Fairgrounds with the New Look youth division of the YMO and other club members, dancing to Darryl Adams’ Tornado Brass Band.

Jennifer Odell is a freelance music writer. Her work appears regularly in DownBeat, Jazz Times, Offbeat and the Gambit, among other publications, and she leads the New Orleans chapter of the Jazz Journalists Association. In her spare time, she enjoys second lining to the Hot 8 or TBC, costuming, and eating all of the crawfish.

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