The sight of roller derby skaters decked out in horned helmets and swinging plastic bats at runners clad mostly in white and red, is becoming increasingly common. Such events now take place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pensacola, Florida, Long Beach, California and elsewhere. While the organizers' websites reference the annual bull runs in Pamplona, Spain, not all mention their more likely inspiration: San Fermin in Nueva Orleans, a festival Mickey "El Padrino" Hanning and friends from local roller derby teams launched nine years ago after Hanning attended Pamplona's festival.
Last year, San Fermin in Nueva Orleans drew more than 15,000 participants, says San Fermin's official "bull wrangler," Tracey Bellina. Organizers expect a similar crowd this year, but the event has changed slightly, spreading to more venues across town as it grows.
The main event is still El Encierro, which starts and ends at the Sugar Mill Saturday morning. At 8 a.m., San Fermin in Nueva Orleans' Pope (Andrew Ward, a former Big Easy Rollergirls announcer) will give the benediction to thousands of runners, or corredors, many simply clad in white and red, and others more elaborately costumed. After the corredors file onto Convention Center Boulevard, more than 260 roller bulls from roller derby leagues in 16 states will be unleashed. Some bulls chase the runners on the circular course through the Warehouse District and others wait in gauntlets that runners have to pass through as they return to the Sugar Mill.
The pre- and post-run parties at the Sugar Mill require a wristband for entry (registration is available on the website), and festivities include the presentation of an award for the best bull outfit (horn size matters). The post-party features music by Vivaz! and Quickie Mart, appearances by the Rolling Elvi and games, including a dunk tank, a mechanical bull and an inflatable boxing ring (in which boxers don massive inflatable gloves). There also are food trucks and cash bars.
The traditional Friday night pre-party, El Txupinazo, which used to happen at the site of the run, has been moved to Freret Street Publiq House. The party features flamenco by Ven Pa'Ca, an open bar and food from Bayona, Mondo, Purloo, Little Gem Saloon and Pizza Domenica.
Tickets are $50 and proceeds go to Beth Friends Forever, which is named for Hanning's wife Beth and benefits New Orleans women fighting breast cancer. The festival also donates a portion of proceeds to Animal Rescue of New Orleans.
Other San Fermin events include the Fiesta de Pantalones, Pobre de Mi recovery brunch and a wine dinner. Beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday, the Fiesta de Pantalones continues the bull run party with live music at The Maison on Frenchmen Street. Sunday features Pobre de Mi, a celebration of Ernest Hemmingway and The Sun Also Rises, some of which is set at Pamplona's running of the bulls. The brunchtime event features a Hemingway writing contest, skits and live music. There's also a Spanish wine dinner at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel Thursday.