April means festival season is in full swing. We’ve just wrapped up French Quarter Fest and now the weekends are jammed with dozens of different festivals. And the biggest festival is still on the way. This year the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival starts on April 22nd and runs through to May 1st, in a seven day stretch of music, food and culture that is unmatched in the country. The festival has been running since 1970 and every year, it grows bigger and attracts visitors from across the country and world.
While the line-up for musicians is always impressive, this year the bill is packed with dozens of amazing performers who are well-known around the world. The big names this year include legends like Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Steely Dan and Van Morrison, as well as popular acts Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers and My Morning Jacket. But one thing that makes the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival unique is that, while many artists come in from all over the country and world, many of the performers are New Orleanians who are famous to locals.
In its first three years, Jazz Fest took place in Congo Square, in the real birthplace of jazz. Ever since, it has been hosted in the Fairgrounds and Racetrack in Gentilly, one of the only times that people are ever allowed to enter the infield grass of the horse racing track. Over the two weeks of Jazz Fest, the grounds are transformed into a musical city, complete with twelve different stages that specialize in blues, jazz, gospel and zydeco, just to name a few. Besides the music, there are different folklife villages set up on the fairgrounds, where festival-goers can learn about the different subsets of culture in the area. You can watch artists create Mardi Gras floats, musicians handcraft accordions, fishermen knit a shrimp net, or Mardi Gras Indians beading their costumes.
Art is abundant at the Jazz Fest and you can find all sorts of souvenirs and treasures at the three different craft areas throughout the festival. The artists rotate from one weekend to the next, so even if you’re staying for the full festival, there will be new artists to see the second time around. Crafts include everything from fine artwork to jewelry and clothes to hand-built instruments.
Jazz Fest also has a selection of the best food vendors in the region and making dining decisions throughout the festival is always tough. You can find all of the classic dishes, from beignets to jambalaya to po’ boys, as well as African, Mediterranean and Asian tents throughout the festival. Make sure you come with an empty stomach and an appetite!
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a crossroads, connecting the rich history and culture of New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta region with the modern world. No matter where you are visiting from, you are sure to get a crash course in southern life. Just grab a spot in the sunshine and enjoy the music, food and the local history.