First rate Second Line: Asheville’s Mardi Gras marching band

Carrie Eidson

The Asheville Mardi Gras parade makes its through downtown this weekend (read about the parade and other festivities here). But even though this particular celebration marches to the beat of a very different drummer, it wouldn’t be a parade without a band. And it wouldn’t be a Mardi Gras parade without a second line band — hence the local collective Asheville Second Line.

Second line brass bands are a tradition in New Orleans. “The ‘First line’ is usually the band or the ones being honored,” explains Nola.com “The bride and groom, as well as the band would be the the ‘first line’ at a Second Line for a wedding. The newly married couple leads the way, usually holding decorated umbrellas or parasols. The guests and anyone else who joins in the celebration are referred to as the ‘second line.’ They form a line behind the band and couple, dancing and strutting to the lively music with handkerchiefs or cocktail napkins.”

Sabra Stein says that when she first participated an Asheville Mardi Gras parade in 2011, she was disappointed that there was no second line band, and resolved to start one. It was idea that clicked with trombone player Lois Jolly. “I rented a space in the boiler room of the Grove Arcade and held the first meeting of about five people,” says Stein. After that, musicians met in her living room for weekly practice sessions. “There were sometimes as many as 20 musicians. We’d move all of the furniture out of my house,” she says.

Stein has a background in public relations and design, so she created a logo, made t-shirts, constructed costumes and held a fundraiser so the band could buy a bass drum. “By the time the 2012 Mardi Gras rolled around, we had a costumed, organized band under the direction of musical director Louis Jolly,” she says.

Last year, bar and restaurant Ben’s Tune-Up offered sponsorship and free rehearsal space to the group. In exchange, Asheville Second Line played the venue’s Gospel Brunch one Sunday per month. The band has also performed at other smaller Mardi Gras events and, when beloved Asheville Mardi Gras group member Carol Pimentel passed away in June, Asheville Second Line took part in her service — another important function of New Orleans’ second line groups. So, “We’re a celebration and memorial band these days,” says Stein.

Happily, this year’s parade will be about letting the good times roll. Asheville Second Line has the perfect soundtrack prepared: “I think the traditional ‘When the Saints Go marching In’ is very much a theme,” says Stein. “We’ve become a crowd favorite, and rightly so.”

WHAT: Asheville Mardi Gras Parade, ashevillemardigras.org
WHERE: Wall and Haywood streets, Battery Park and Page avenues
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 15, at 3 p.m. Free.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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