We just can’t seem to get enough of New Orleans. Our last visit was in 2016. We timed this visit around the 49th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz Festival. And what a fitting ending to a trip that began in Nashville’s Country and Western honky-tonks and progressed through Memphis’ blues bars and its origin of Rock n Roll. New Orleans has so many things to see and do.
New Orleans French Quarter
But first, no trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to the French Quarter. We warmed up for the festival with stops at many of the French Quarter’s and especially Faubourg Maringy’s Frenchman Street jazz clubs. We particularly enjoyed our return visits to Frenchman Street for favorites Snug Harbor, Blue Nile, Bamboulas, and The Maison (with its stock of 50 (including many local) beers.
As for the Quarter, we primarily appreciate just soaking in the atmosphere of the entire neighborhood, the party-on environment of Bourbon Street, and the Jazz and Rock bands at two particular hotspots (Fat Gatz and Bandstands) that were hosting two particular rock bands (Chicken on the Bone and Rock Box).
One of the advantages of both streets: you don’t have to commit. Find a spot where you like the atmosphere and the music, stop in for a drink and the music and leave when you wish to search for another spot. And if you haven’t yet finished your drink; not to worry. This, after all, is NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana). Just take it with you.
A Day at the New Orleans Jazz Festival
Jazz Fest, formally known as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, has evolved into a civic institution in its 50 years of its existence. It has also evolved into a meticulously-run money machine. The festival features hundreds of 100 artists, including Diana Ross, Doobie Brothers, Santana, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kate Perry, Dave Matthews Band (who we just saw in Nashville), Jimmy Buffet, Trombone Shorty and the original headliner (who had to cancel due to illness) the Rolling Stones.
The celebration occupies the entire infield and track of the NASCAR racetrack. Although it spans eight days (Thursday through Sunday) over a two-week period, we limited our visit to a single day. Each day features roughly 125 acts spread across 24 stages and tents, with roughly five acts at any one time. These included two primary headline stages, and tents devoted to themes including jazz, blues, gospel, and local heritage (primarily Native American).
Nor does this even begin to account for the many jazz parades that crossed the infield throughout the day, the dozens of heritage, arts and crafts exhibits or the dozens of food and drink stands. While we decided to have our meals in city restaurants, rather than the festival’s primarily locally-themed fast food tents, we did briefly browse through many of the cultural, arts, and crafts tents, few of which held our interest for long.
But we were there primarily for the music. We kept very busy catching at least parts of more than a dozen acts in which we had the greatest interest. These included everything from many of the day’s headliners such as Van Morrison, Al Green, Bonnie Rait (who sang a guest duet with Boz Scaggs), Johnny Rivers, and the Marsalis Family (including Ellis, Wynton, and Bradford), to lesser-known guests including multiple female singers in a tribute to Aretha Franklin, Davell Crawford, the Treme Brass band, Pastor Tyrone Jefferson or Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles.
Which were our favorites? Tough to say. We absolutely enjoyed a number of Bonnie Rait and Van Morrison songs (although scheduling forced us to miss, if he did indeed sing Brown Eyed Girl), some of the Aretha Franklin and Al Green classics (like Respect, Summertime and Take me to the River, respectively). It was also a treat to see the Marsalis family perform as a group. Overall, however, Johnny Rivers hit some of our most nostalgic high notes, as with Mountain of Love, Summer of Love, and Boogie Woogie Blues. We also enjoyed some of the songs, not so speak of the energy and dancing, of some of the gospel and heritage shows that we managed to catch.
Overall, we enjoyed our first visit to the Festival. And we may well consider a return visit—although we have also promised ourselves at least one return visit to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
Visiting the Jazz Fest, however, does not come on cheap. A basic, one-day, general Admission weekend ticket costs $70 per person, and a shuttle bus from downtown another $22. Commemorative tee shirts start at $45. Nor does this begin to account for various premium admission options, weekend or full-festival tickets, or the special tickets for the day the Rolling Stones were scheduled to attend (the cost was refunded due to the band’s cancellation). Nor, of course, does include the costs of airfare, festival weekend hotel costs, meals, or drinks. Still, we, and thousands of other visitors, found the cost well worth the expense.