It would be difficult to spend a day in New Orleans without hearing
music. But for 10 days each year, the town becomes a musical mecca
with what seems like live performances in every nook and cranny.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which this year is
scheduled for April 23-May 2, is one of the nation’s most-beloved
music events. It was created in 1970 to celebrate the diverse range
of music for which the region is known.
“The idea was to create an event that would draw people to New
Orleans,” said Louis Edwards, the festival’s associate producer.
“It was indigenous entertainment packaged in such a way that it
would have international appeal.”
And it worked. The event has grown to include a wide range of
internationally known performers, from the Sinatra-style crooner
Harry Connick Jr. to down-and-dirty bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth”
Headliners this year include Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Lenny
Kravitz, Emmylou Harris, Branford Marsalis and Ray Charles. There
will also be a slew of local stars, such as the Neville Brothers,
Buckwheat Zydeco and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
As a tourist draw, Jazz Fest is second only to Mardi Gras, but
tourists who come for the music festival tend to spend more money,
said Beverly Gianna, vice president of communications for the New
Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Last year, for example, an estimated 503,000 attended Jazz Fest,
216,000 of which were out-of-towners, resulting in an economic
impact of $300 million for the city. According to Gianna, hotel
occupancy rates during the festival commonly reach 99 percent.
By comparison, the last five days of Mardi Gras in 2003 brought
in fewer than 400,000 out-of-town visitors, who only generated an
estimated $220 million.
But Mardi Gras is primarily about “parade watching,” said
Gianna. Jazz Fest is about hearing music at venues all over
The main events fall on the weekends (April 23-25 and April
29-May 2) at what is called the Louisiana Heritage Fair at the Fair
Grounds Race Course. In addition to performances throughout the day
on 12 stages over the 40-acre property, there are craft fairs, as
well as more than 100 booths serving food.
There is also an evening concert series. And because the town is
full of musicians, clubs and other venues also tend to offer
terrific shows that may not be officially part of Jazz Fest.
Prices for the evening concert performances vary. Daily Heritage
fair tickets are $20 in advance ($1.50 for kids under 12) and $25
at the door ($2 for children). Tickets are available through
Ticketmaster (800-488-5252; www.ticketmaster.com).
Destination Management Inc. is the official tour operator for
the event, offering packages with hotel, event tickets and
transfers. Parking at the fair grounds is limited, so the company
also offers shuttle service from the Sheraton and another mid-city
“We work with over 40 hotels in the city,” said Bob Bourg,
Destination Management vice president and general manager. They
also offer hotel-only rates, but not air, and everything is
Some Western agents said they try to avoid special events when
sending clients to New Orleans because of the crowds. But others
said such events can be a profitable part of a pre- or post-cruise
package for those shipping out of New Orleans to the Caribbean.
Clayton Whitehead, vice president of Sports Leisure Vacations in
Sacramento, Calif., for example, said he takes groups on tours of
New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but also on tours of the region.
This spring, for example, he is taking a group on a Music of the
Mississippi tour that begins with three days in New Orleans and
travels up through the Delta to Memphis.
The South “has come to be a very profitable region,” said
Whitehead. “And New Orleans is an easy sell.”
Jazz Fest officials say those who attend the event once tend to
return as many as five times in later years.
“People who come to the festival are really passionate about
it,” said Edwards. “It’s one of the places where you can engage
with the most fun-loving audience.”