Essential New Orleans

Art, Music and Food

By: George Abry

By George Abry NEW ORLEANS As summer settles on the Crescent City, the tourists clear out, wilting humidity sets in and locals get on with their lives. The city’s Holy Trinity of festivals Mardi Gras, French Quarter Fest and the Jazz & Heritage Festival are off in the hazy distance of 2004. But don’t expect New Orleanians to hide from the delta sun. If you can’t beat the heat, might as well join it. And the best antidote to the dog days of summer is ... you guessed it, a celebration. Any old reason will do: a tomato, a strawberry, a frog, a duck, a trumpet. Anything will pass for a party in the Big Easy, any time of year. JUNE French Market Tomato Festival Sat., May 31 and Sun., June 1. The Creole tomato is sweeter and meatier than other tomatoes, and plays a major role in the city’s world-class cuisine. The festival heralds the arrival of the year’s first crop. Live music, cooking demonstrations and marching groups will furnish the backdrop. Food booths offer everything tomato from Bloody Mary’s to fried green tomatoes, Tomato Mambo to Cole Succotash. Free, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the French Market on the Mississippi River, “America’s oldest public market.” JULY Go Fourth on the River Fri., July 4. The Fourth of July is celebrated with great fanfare on the banks of the Mississippi River. Riverboat rides, free live music, food, and an explosive fireworks display commemorate a daylong Independence Day celebration at Woldenberg Park. Coca-Cola Essence Music Festival 2003 Thurs., July 3 through Sat., July 5. The 9th annual Essence Fest returns to New Orleans with an R & B, hip-hop, reggae, and jazz lineup that includes P. Diddy and the Bad Boy Family, Chaka Khan and Smokey Robinson, among others. The three-day event at the Louisiana Superdome features five stages, book signings and celebrity meet-and-greets. Leading African-American political activists, religious and social leaders will speak and conduct seminars. Tickets from $35 to $125, available through Ticketmaster. www.essence. com or www.ticketmaster. com. Satchmo SummerFest Thurs., July 31 through Mon., Aug. 4. One of the city’s annual musical highlights pays tribute to legendary trumpeter and native son Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Musical guests include local jazz patriarch Ellis Marsalis and good-time trumpeter Kermit Ruffins. The free event, held at the Louisiana State Museum’s Old U.S. Mint in the French Quarter, includes lectures and discussions led by national cultural historians and will feature exhibits devoted to jazz. And, of course, there will be plenty of red beans and rice. August Gueydan Duck Festival Thurs., Aug. 21 through Sun., Aug. 24. If your clients have just a few hours for a day trip to Cajun country, the Duck Festival might be just the thing. The event began in a rice field in the late ‘70s, and now has 10 acres in Gueydan, which is a 3½-hour drive west of New Orleans. Usually held near the last weekend before Labor Day, the Duck Festival offers carnival rides, duck- and goose-calling contests, skeet shoots, dog trials and lots and lots of Cajun cooking. 888-536-6456; SEPTEMBER Oktoberfest Fridays and Saturdays from Sept. 26 through Oct. 25. An annual festival celebrating traditional German music, dancing, food and drink is held each year at the Deutsches Haus, a local German social organization at 200 S. Galvez St. 504-522-8014. OCTOBER Irish Fall Festival Sat., Oct. 4 and Sun., Oct. 5 O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Centre & Pub at 514 Toulouse St. celebrates the luck of the Irish with music and dancing, workshops, storytelling, food and children’s activities. 504-529-1317. Louisiana Swamp Festival Sat., Oct. 4 and Sun., Oct. 5; Sat., Oct. 11 and Sun., Oct. 12. Each October the Audubon Zoo is host to two weekends of music, food, crafts and hands-on animal exhibits and feedings. The museum opened its Louisiana Swamp exhibit in 1984 but it was the festival that prompted a $3-million expansion in 1999. The exhibit includes the re-creation of a 1930s swamp settlement and lots of indigenous attractions, including crawfish po’ boys. 504-581-4629; New Orleans Film Festival Thurs., Oct. 9 through Thurs., Oct. 16. Film buffs can check out premieres of American and foreign films at the 15th annual New Orleans Film Festival. Each year, prominent directors, screenwriters, film critics and actors participate in panel discussions and workshops during weeklong festivities. Venues include the D-Day Museum; the Aquarium of the Americas; and local theatres, including the Contemporary Arts Center. 504-523-3818; DECEMBER The month of December allows clients to experience Christmas “New Orleans-style.” Dozens of yuletide events take place throughout the city, including candlelit tours of 19th century homes, caroling, bonfire and riverboat cruises, and Christmas Day musical performances. Seeing the French Quarter twinkling with Christmas lights from a horse-drawn buggy is reason enough to visit New Orleans in December. A complete listing of festivals and events is posted on The Web site has information about yearlong festivities relating to the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase.