Here in New Orleans we don’t have “regular” seasons like fall, winter or spring. Instead, we have seasons like Saints, carnival and festival. Hundreds of festivals are held during the spring each year, but none takes the cake quite like the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, commonly known as Jazz Fest.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jazz Fest, and in the past five decades, what began as a small, local music event playing to 350 people has grown into a New Orleans institution. To put it mildly, Jazz Fest is a yearly celebration rivaled in size and importance only by Mardi Gras.
That’s all well and good, but a little overwhelming, no? Luckily #FrayLife’s got you covered! Read on for our guide to all things Jazz Fest, and how you can make the most of your time at the fest.
Like everything in the Big Easy, Jazz Fest has a unique and rich history. As the story goes, gospel legend Mahalia Jackson and jazz icon Duke Ellington were in Congo Square for the Louisiana Heritage Fair and came across the Eureka Brass Band leading a second line through the festival grounds. Jackson was handed a microphone, “she sang along with the band and joined the parade… and the spirit of Jazz Fest was born.” The meeting of jazz greats and local heritage has inspired the festival from the very beginning and is a shining example of everything Jazz Fest stands for: unparalleled music and New Orleans authenticity. Jazz Fest has occurred every year since 1969; Hurricane Katrina didn’t even put a stop to the revelry.
Music is the heart and soul of Jazz Fest. Not a big jazz fan? No worries! Just about every type of music imaginable is represented on one of the fifteen different stages and tents throughout the fest. Some of the 2019 headliners include Santana, Katy Perry, Van Morrison, Chris Stapleton, the Dave Matthews Band, Diana Ross and Jimmy Buffett. The full lineup can be found online. The Acura Stage and Gentilly Stage are the main stages, but hundreds of artists are performing all over the fest!
#FrayLife Tip: Don’t miss your favorite acts! Download the Jazz Fest app to create your own schedule based on the artists you want to see.
Like the festival itself, the art market at Jazz Fest has expanded from a “handful of artisans” to three separate marketplaces featuring “the diverse works of hundreds of regionally and nationally acclaimed artists.” In the Congo Square African Marketplace you’ll find a variety of artists exhibiting ancient crafting techniques highlighting themes of the African Diaspora. The Contemporary Crafts area showcases a wide array of creations by national artists from handcrafted clothing and jewelry to musical instruments, metalwork and pottery, and the Louisiana Marketplace naturally features local art and creations that “evoke the state’s unique cultural landscape.”
There are few things as representative of New Orleans heritage as our food. In fact, not only are hundreds of food vendors on site selling their delicious cuisine, there are also two stages that exclusively host food demonstrations all day long, showcasing Louisiana favorites like Crawfish Étouffée and Frog Leg Gumbo. The official Jazz Fest policy is “no carnival food,” which means you’re getting hand-crafted foods from small, local businesses. There are way too many fan favorites to list, but cochon de lait sandwiches and all things crawfish (especially strudel) come to mind.
#FrayLife Tip: Remember the Jazz Fest app? Not only can you map out your music, you can map out your favorite foods as well!
Jazz Fest is unique in that it’s not just about music (or food), but rather a celebration of the cultures so integral to the music represented. There are numerous exhibits and areas throughout the fest that educate newcomers and veterans alike about local traditions, so be sure to check them out!
Are you heading to Jazz Fest this year? What are your can’t-miss acts? How about your favorite foods? Share with us in the comments and tag #FrayLife and #NOLAFray in all your social posts!