New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival features music, crafts and food. // © 2016 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Feature image (above): The festival has a Mardi Gras feel. // © 2016 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Thousands flock to New Orleans’ Fair Grounds Race Course every spring for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, an event featuring food, crafts and great music. The festival attracts approximately 400,000 visitors, which fills hotel rooms and gives the city an air similar to Mardi Gras.
So how does a tourist navigate the “Busy Easy” during the weekends of April 22-24 and April 28 to May 1?
Hotel rooms book quickly, so it’s imperative to shop early. Some hotels, such as Hyatt Regency New Orleans, offer packages to make the experience more complete. The Hyatt’s Jazz Fest Package includes a deluxe suite, reserved bar area near its Jazz Live music series and more.
Ticket prices to Jazz Fest range from $65 in advance to $75 at the gate. Add food and drinks to the mix, and it can be an expensive day.
“I love to try as many foods at Jazz Fest as I can, but it can get expensive, and the portions are generous,” said Cary Alden, a public relations executive who lives and works in the city. “So I recommend going with at least one other person who is as interested in the food as you are so you can share.”
National acts draw crowds, so New Orleans journalist Victor Andrews suggests smaller stages that offer local and regional artists.
“There are some true gems that really are the heart and soul of New Orleans jazz and its rich, vibrant heritage,” he said.
Top Picks for This Year's Lineup
Local music writer John Wirt, formerly with The Advocate newspaper and now a freelance journalist, has covered Jazz Fest for years. Here are his suggestions on this year’s lineup:
- Kermit Ruffins (April 22 and 30): This New Orleans singer-trumpeter idolizes his hometown’s most celebrated son, Louis Armstrong.
- Boz Scaggs (April 23): Scaggs developed deep affection for New Orleans’ rhythm-and-blues music, and his latest album includes versions of Louisiana classics.
- Rhiannon Giddens (April 24): Rhiannon Giddens won a Grammy award when she was a member of the old-time string band Carolina Chocolate Drops.
- Paul Simon (April 29): After singing alongside Art Garfunkel in the 1960s duo Simon and Garfunkel, Simon continues as an enduring solo star.
- Jon Cleary (April 30): A lover of New Orleans’ rhythm-and-blues and funk music, singer-keyboardist Cleary moved to New Orleans from his native England. Cleary’s latest album, 2015’s “GoGo Juice,” won a Grammy award.
- The Allen Toussaint Band (May 1): Allen Toussaint’s touring band, plus special guests Cyril Neville, Davell Crawford, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John and Jon Batiste, will pay musical tribute to the late songwriter, pianist and producer.