Jazzing Up The Big Easy

This year’s Jazz & Heritage Festival promises a return to song and dance

By: Cheré Coen

New Orleans Jazz Festival
This year’s event expects a big turnout.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is right up there with Mardi Gras when talking about the city’s defining annual cultural and traditional events. This year, the festival returns to its pre-Katrina schedule, which gives everyone something to shout about even before visiting the Gospel Tent.

The festival, which Life magazine called “the country’s very best music festival,” spans two weekends, always the last weekend in April and the first weekend of May. As the festival grew over the years, organizers added a Thursday to the second weekend. This addition, however, was dropped after the hurricane, more to accommodate organizers than due to a lack of festival-goers, since the past two years have seen outstanding numbers. Now, with most of the tourism areas of New Orleans back in business, this year promises to be Jazz Fest as usual.

Jazz Fest will take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 25-27, and Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 1-4. Eleven stages of simultaneous music occur from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily during those dates at the historic New Orleans Fair Grounds Race Course.

Aaron Neville
Aaron Neville performs at the New
Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Some of the headliners this year are Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Sheryl Crow, Santana, Widespread Panic, Shreveport’s Tim McGraw, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Kyshia Cole, New Orleans’ adopted son Jimmy Buffett, Cowboy Mouth, Dr. John (celebrating 80 this year) and the always popular locals The Neville Brothers and soul singer Irma Thomas.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As always, there will be plenty of Cajun and zydeco, New Orleans funk, Caribbean music, all types of jazz and brass bands.

In addition, the festival offers a food fair with more than 100 varieties of authentic Louisiana cuisine, an arts-and-crafts area and special events such as the colorfully decorated Mardi Gras Indians and second line parades with jazz bands.

Tickets for Thursday, May 1, are $30 in advance, $40 at the gate. Tickets for any other festival day are $40 in advance, $50 at the gate, and can be purchased through www.nojazzfest.com and Ticketmaster online or over the phone.

A limited number of the festival’s Big Chief VIP Experience packages, featuring a full weekend pass and VIP amenities, are available for $750 for the first weekend, $900 with parking, and $800 for the second weekend, $1,000 with parking. A newly established Grand Marshal VIP Pass sells for $450 for the first weekend and $600 with parking; and $500 for the second weekend, $700 with parking. It allows for front-row, standing-room viewing at the festival’s three biggest stages. Tickets can also be purchased at the Jazz Fest ticket office located at the Superdome, Gate A Ground Level.

Dancing at the festival
There is plenty of room to
dance at the festival.
Special events occurring outside the festival gates includes the 10th Annual Gala fundraiser on April 24 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, which honors legends Little Richard and Deacon John and the Ivories. Individual tickets are $500 and tables of 10 are $5,000.

Hotels offer packages individually, so special rates and group discounts are arranged per hotel. Prices vary from $109 at the Best Western to $459 at the Ritz-Carlton with prices in the $200 range for the Sheraton New Orleans, the festival’s host hotel. Agents can peruse these prices and hotel room availability and book rooms on the festival’s Web site.

Restaurants, tour groups and agencies also offer their own special packages, said Lea Sinclair, director of communications for the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation.

One of the lagniappes of Jazz Fest which means a little something extra is that visitors can spend the day at the Fair Grounds and then hear many of the city’s finest musicians, as well as the big names in town for the event, at hot music clubs such as Tipitina’s, Snug Harbor and Margaritaville, among many others. Offbeat magazine will have a complete list of happenings closer to the event.


New Orleans Jazz Festival
Ticket Information: 800-488-5252
Children’s tickets, for ages 2 to 11, are $5 in advance or at the gate.

10th Annual Gala

Offbeat magazine