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Celebrate Running of the Bulls, New Orleans Style

San Fermin in Nueva Orleans 2017 (photo credit: Gustavo Escanelle)
San Fermin in Nueva Orleans 2017 (Photo credit: Gustavo Escanelle)

It likely began as a practical matter of herding bulls from their corral into the bullfighting ring. Today, it is perhaps one of Spain’s most widely known cultural traditions. Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises novel, published in 1926, revealed Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls to the international community at-large, and, in doing so, ignited an insatiable desire for those daring tourists seeking to prove their machismo.

Pamplona is located in Basque Country, actually an autonomous region between Spain and France. The Basque people have their own customs and their own language—in fact, Pamplona’s name in the Basque language is “Iruña.” The Running of the Bulls, the encierro, is just one component of San Fermín, the annual festival in honor of Saint Fermín of Amiens, Pamplona’s first bishop who was martyred around the year 303. In addition to honoring the saint, celebrations can obviously get a bit rowdy and dangerous once the bulls are released to make their ways through narrow, cobblestone streets.

Which brings us to New Orleans.

Since 2007, San Fermin in Nueva Orleans has hosted its own festivities each July, concurrent with Pamplona’s. The local events have some basis in the original traditions but, as might be expected, with a cheeky twist. This year’s festival takes place July 13-15.

Release the RollerBulls

Running of the Bulls (photo by Cheryl Gerber)

Releasing real bulls in Downtown New Orleans would be perhaps an unwise choice, with animal rights activists understandably up in arms (as is actually happening across Spain in protest of bull fighting). The better choice, as founders Mickey and Beth Hanning, Dylan O’Donnell, and Tracey Bellina thought, would be RollerBulls—members of the Big Easy Rollergirls and other roller derby teams outfitted with horns and armed with plastic bats.

Like in Pamplona, the Running of the Bulls is the most well-known aspect of San Fermin in Nueva Orleans. This year on Saturday, July 14 at 8:00 a.m. sharp, runners will take to the streets wearing the traditional white dress accented by red scarves and bandanas (background: this traditional dress symbolizes the martyrdom of San Fermin) to participate in a mad dash to outrun the RollerBulls. The unlucky runners will get whacked with the plastic bats—preferable to being trampled or gored—but nonetheless painful.

This year’s San Fermin in Nueva Orleans includes a number of ticketed events (including VIP tickets), whose sales help raise money for two local charities, Beth’s Friends Forever and Animal Rescue New Orleans. There will be an area open to the public outside the festival grounds at the Sugar Mill where sales, such as merchandise, will benefit the charities. Take part in the full San Fermin in Nueva Orleans experience this year and support several good causes while you do. Read on for more information about the festival’s events.

San Fermin in Nueva Orleans helps raise money for Beth’s Friends Forever (Photo credit: Gustavo Escanelle)

El Txupinazo (pronounced choo-pin-AHT-so)

When: Friday, July 13, 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Where: The Sugar Mill (1021 Convention Center Blvd.)

In Pamplona, the Txupinazo is the pyrotechnic rocket that marks the start of San Fermin festivities. In New Orleans, Beth’s Friends Forever hosts a full-fledged event. Ticket prices include an open bar, live music from Ven Pa’Ca, food from local restaurants (so far, Commander’s Palace, SoBou, Atchafalaya, and Bacchanal are confirmed), and a silent auction benefiting Beth’s Friends Forever.

Procession of San Fermin

When: Saturday, July 14, 7:15 a.m.
Where: Starts at John Churchill Chase and S. Peters Streets and turns on Convention Center Boulevard to the Sugar Mill (1021 Convention Center Blvd.)

Immediately preceding the Running of the Bulls, the Procession of San Fermín takes to the streets to honor the saint, the co-patron of Pamplona.

The Procession of San Fermin (Photo credit: Tom Pumphret)

Running of the Bulls (El Encierro)

When: Saturday, July 14, 8:00 a.m.
Where: The Sugar Mill (1021 Convention Center Blvd.)

Join more than 18,000 runners and hundreds of RollerBulls in this adrenaline-inducing run. This year’s run is presented by Port Orleans Brewing Company. The rules of the run forbid touching the bulls and require that if you go down, you stay down (like in Pamplona). Children under ten should use the sidewalk. All participants run at their own risk. The Encierro starts and ends at the Sugar Mill, the location of the official party. In early July, the festival will announce a special musical guest—so stay tuned.

La Fiesta de Pantalones (after party)

When: Saturday, July 14, 11:30 a.m.
Where: The Rusty Nail (1100 Constance St.)

La Fiesta de Pantalones (literally “the pants party”) is the official after party for the Running of the Bulls. Discounted drink prices will be available for those that have registered for the event (show your wristband for discounts).

El Pobre de Mi (Poor Me)

When: Sunday, July 15, 12:00 p.m. (doors: 11:00 a.m.)
Where: TBD

In Pamplona, El Pobre de Mi (literally “poor me”) is the official closing ceremony for San Fermin. For San Fermin in Nueva Orleans it serves the same function but comes in the form of a recovery brunch and variety show with Roxie Le Rouge and Big Deal Burlesque, among others. Also on the menu is the annual Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest. As they say in Pamplona, “Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermin!” Long live San Fermín!

Emily Ramírez Hernández is the child of New Orleans natives whose families have been in the city for generations. Emily's earliest memories of New Orleans include joyful car rides over bumpy streets, eating dripping roast beef po-boys at Domilise's, and catching bouncy balls during Mardi Gras parades with cousins. An urban planner by day and freelance writer by night, when she is off the clock she enjoys biking around town, belly dancing, and catching nerdlesque shows.

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