Sounds and flavors of the Big Easy simmer at Jazz & Heritage Festival


New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, draws millions of visitors year-round to experience the city’s rich and thriving live music culture. While some of the best talent can be heard in the clubs, bars and streets, one of the biggest draws for live music enthusiasts is the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at the Fair Grounds Race Course.

This year marks the 54th year of the festival, held on successive weekends beginning on April 25 and ending on May 5.

The inaugural event in 1970 drew just a few hundred people to the site that had been known as Congo Square to hear artists like Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington and Fats Domino. Now, Jazz Fest annually draws approximately half a million music lovers from around the world to celebrate the culture and heritage of New Orleans and Louisiana.

There are 13 stages, 70 food booths and three arts and crafts marketplaces, and more than 5,000 musicians are expected to perform, as will New Orleans’ signature second line parades featuring vibrant Mardi Gras Indians and brass bands.


This festival is always growing, and this year that goes for its length, as well: For the first time, there will be two four-day weekends, Thursday to Sunday. In past years, Jazz Fest has consisted of a three-day opening weekend and four-day closing weekend.

Mardi Gras Indians performing on the Louisiana Heritage Stage at the festival.
Mardi Gras Indians performing on the Louisiana Heritage Stage at the festival. Photo Credit: Joshua Brasted
This year’s festival has already drawn significant attention with word that the Rolling Stones are making Jazz Fest one of the stops on their Hackney Diamonds Tour; the Stones will appear on May 2, the opening night of the second weekend. Heavy hitters like the Stones have long been a staple of Jazz Fest; past headliners have included Stevie Wonder, the Who, Elton John, the Dave Matthews Band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Earth, Wind & Fire.

But it’s the wide variety of local and Louisiana-based musicians playing rock, jazz, gospel, zydeco, funk and virtually every style of music who make the festival unique and give visitors a proper New Orleans cultural experience.

Visit the official Jazz Fest website to learn about other acts that will be appearing.

A few of the food stalls featuring Cajun and Creole cuisine.
A few of the food stalls featuring Cajun and Creole cuisine. Photo Credit: Joshua Brasted
More than the music
The festival’s food options are just as curated and robust as the music. Restaurants and small businesses from across the city and state serve up Louisiana cuisine like muffuletta, beignets and jambalaya.

Some of the most popular eats include Crawfish Monica; soft-shell crab and cochon de lait po’boys; and pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo. There’s also vegan and vegetarian-friendly choices as well as wine, beer and nonalcoholic refreshments like frozen cafe au laits and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

A must-see is the Cultural Exchange Pavilion, which highlights a different country from Africa, South America or the Caribbean each year, showcasing its music, food and art. Haiti, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Mali have all been featured in the past. In between musical acts, visitors can stroll and shop at the arts and crafts marketplaces where local artisans and vendors from all over the U.S. sell fashions, jewelry and art.

With so many stages and sights, one needs to have a strategy because so much incredible music is happening all at once. The festival app gives users easy access to the schedule, information about the bands and food and a map of the Fair Grounds.

Weekend passes (Thursday to Sunday) are currently on sale offering various levels of amenities. The Grand Marshal VIP, Krewe of Jazz Fest VIP and Big Chief VIP passes include express entrance and re-entry privileges, private viewing areas for the main stages and separate beverage and food stalls and bathrooms. Single-day passes will be available closer to the event, but weekend passes enable attendees to fully immerse themselves over the four-day weekend.

Festival gates open at 11 a.m., and things wrap up each day at 7 p.m., leaving plenty of time to keep the party going at venues around the city where musicians play sets into the wee hours of the morning — or offering ample time to get some sleep and recover to fest again the next day.

The Jazz Fest website gives travelers and advisors numerous ways to plan a trip. Packages that include hotel and shuttles to the Fair Grounds are available. The festival’s official host hotel is the Sheraton New Orleans, and Expedia launched a NOLA Travel Hub with city guides and travel resources for curious visitors.

Courtesy of Travel Weekly

New Orleans Jazz Festival