There’s nothing in the world like springtime in New Orleans…the flowers are in bloom…the weather is ideal…and the city is alive with color. And, there’s nothing more New Orleans than the French Quarter Festival.
Slated for April 12-14, the 8th annual French Quarter Festival will showcase more than five hundred local musicians and entertainers, the “World’s Largest Jazz Brunch”, a spectacular fireworks display, and everything that makes the Crescent City so unique. The festivities begin on Friday, April 12, with a second-line parade through the historic Vieux Carre headed by Layton Martens and the Spirit of New Orleans, and culminates on Sunday, April 14, with a performance by the Quarter’s own Chris Owens.
For the music lover, the French Quarter Festival offers classical, Cajun, rhythm & blues, contemporary, and, of course, jazz. Touted by one Louisiana journalist who is a self-proclaimed jazz impresario at heart, the French Quarter Festival is “one of the greatest collections of real jazz musicians in the world.” Bourbon Street showcases traditional Dixieland jazz on five stages Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Clarinetist Tim Laughlin, whose music follows the style of local jazz great Pete Fountain, can be found in the 200 block of Bourbon on Friday at 1:30 p.m., while further down the street, Eddie Bayard and the New Orleans Classic Jazz Orchestra can be heard. Bayard and his group play early New Orleans jazz in the style of the Owls and the Halfway House Orchestra. Bayard’s performance is followed by Jacques Gauthe and The Creole Rice Yerba Buena Jazz Band, patterned after Lou Waters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band of San Francisco.
Danny Barker, veteran New Orleanian from Storyville days, also graces Bourbon Street, as does Rhodes Spedale with his Night Bloomin’ Jazzmen. On Saturday and Sunday, jazz enthusiasts will discover Neil Unterseher and The Razzberrie Ragtimers, Michael White and The Original Liberty Jazz Band, Warren Clark and the French Quarter Jazz Band, and Steve Pistorius and the Mahogany Hall Stompers. Chris Tyle and Hal Smith with their Smith-Tyle Frisco Syncopators bring West Coast jazz band sounds to the free festival, while George Finola showcases the style of early jazz pioneer Bix Biederbecke. The music continues throughout Sunday afternoon with the Al Belletto Sextet, Pud Brown and the Delta Kings, Butch Gomez and the Treme Jazz Band, Plato Smith and the Band from Dixieland, and Ed Dowling and His Jazz Band. The jazz gets even hotter and heavier with Sunday evening’s Battle of the Bands on the corner of Bourbon and Orleans Streets, where Tommy Yetta’s New Orleans Jazz Band, Chuck Credo and the Basin Street Six, and Murphy Campo and the Jazz Saints go round for round, each in their own style, culminating with a playoff of “Saints”.
Historic Royal Street, the setting of art and antiques, fashion and food, sets the stage for the classical and international sounds of Frank and Cindy Mayes. The musical couple’s rendition of “Mozart and More” features eight instruments and a variety of music from classical to jazz. New Orleans Symphony musicians join in the festivities with Russ Bobrowski’s String Quartet that features standard string quartet literature and Jack Gardner’s Brass Ensemble that includes traditional classical winds and quartet literature. There’s also Arnold Radel’s Continental Ensemble, a violin/accordion duo of gypsy music that was made famous in dining rooms across New Orleans. Festival-goers will be treated to memories of Oktoberfest celebrations with the Wienerschnitzel German Band, whose performance has been featured in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and, of course, New Orleans. Julie Council crosses Lake Pontchartrain and brings to the French Quarter a mixture of ethnic songs and dances, and there’s also “Gentle Jazz,” a trio comprised of Frank Frederico, Norman Meyer and James Campbell with sounds from the 1930s and ’40s. Royal Street also offers musical diversity with appearances by the Buck Fever and Dixie Cloggers, the melodious sounds of the Mardi Gras Chorus and Harmony International, and dancing by Delta Festival Ballet and Can Can Cabaret. The Greater New Orleans McDonald’s Jazz Ensemble, Delgado Community College Jazz Ensemble, and the All City Youth Orchestra provide a showcase for talented young musicians, the future musical greats of New Orleans.
There’s a sprinkling of military activity throughout the Festival weekend, with a Friday afternoon performance in Jackson Square by a combined concert band of the Marine Corps and Navy, followed by Tulane’s Navy ROTC Drum and Bugle Corps. Saturday and Sunday the U. S. Navy Steel Band and High Tide, the Navy’s rock band, can be heard along the riverfront.
First-time festivalgoers will be delighted to find the wide array of free entertainment; French Quarter Festival regulars will be excited with the Festival’s expansion to the new Woldenberg Riverfront Park, home of the Aquarium of the Americas. The World’s Largest Jazz Brunch also expands, as it takes place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in Jackson Square, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. along the riverfront. More than sixty booths, representing the finest restaurants in New Orleans, showcase local specialties for $1-$3 per serving. Gumbo fans won’t want to miss the Gumbo Shop’s Chicken and Andouille and Seafood Okra Gumbo, as well as Cafe Gris Gris’ Duck and Sausage Gumbo. Crawfish lovers will want to seek out Begue’s Crawfish Au Gratin, Alex Patout’s Louisiana Restaurant’s Crawfish Acadian, Mike Anderson’s Crawfish Etouffee, or Trey Yuen’s Crawfish with spicy Lobster Sauce. There’s Barbecue Shrimp Manale from the St. Charles Restaurant, Oyster Artichoke Florentine from Café Pontalba, Turtle Soup from Mandina’s French Quarter Restaurant, and Crab Cake Tchoupitoulas from the Crescent City Brewhouse. Maximo’s Italian Grill offers Pasta Rosa and Grilled Marinated Lamb Ribs, and Montalbano’s Seafood Restaurant serves Barbecue Alligator. Heartier eaters might opt for a Muffaletta from the Napoleon House or a Hot Sausage Po-Boy from Vaucresson Sausage Company. Buster Holmes’ Fried Chicken, the Steamboat Natchez’s Red Beans and Rice, and Grilled Chicken Livers with Hot Pepper Jelly from the Praline Connection, the latest soul food craze, are also available. And, for those with a sweet tooth, Loretta’s French Market Gourmet will be on hand with pralines, cookies and shoe soles, and Gisclair’s features peanut butter pie. Daiquiris, Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes, Miller Beer, and Coca-Cola are a plenty.
The music at the World’s Largest Jazz Brunch will be as satisfying as the food. Jackson Square showcases the Storyville Stompers, the melodic sounds of “In the Mood,” Wanda Lee Rouzan and A Taste of New Orleans, Germaine Bazzle and the George French Band, and Rare Blend featuring Big Al Carson. Lillian Boutte and Thomas L’Etienne with the New Orleans Jazz Ensemble, Mahogany Hall’s Dukes of Dixieland, and pianist Ronnie Kole are also featured on the Jackson Square stage.
Kings and queens of rhythm and blues and jazz are featured at Woldenberg Riverfront Park with performances by Sadie Blake, Juanita Brooks, the Red Tyler Quartet, Marva Wright, Charmaine Neville, Reggie Houston and Amasa Miller, and King Nino and the Slavegirls of Jazz Fest fame. Tony Dagradi’s Astral Project’s progressive sounds can be heard on the river along with Cajun groups Echauffe and Cajun Tradition. The Latin, jazz and classical blend of Patrice Fischer, the first jazz harpist in New Orleans to form a jazz group, adds a new twist to the French Quarter Festival. Lillian Boutte, New Orleans’ musical ambassador throughout Europe, and brother John, together with Big Al Carson, bring a special rhythm and blues gospel show to the riverfront on Saturday night. Marlboro, sponsor of the Hibernia Pavilion Stage at Woldenberg Park, presents “The Big Picture,” a Detroit area favorite and winner of the 1990 Marlboro Music National Talent Roundup in the adult contemporary category. The final act of the Festival features a dazzling performance by New Orleans’ own Chris Owens on Sunday evening.
With more than one hundred hours of music, tours of historic courtyards, a 5-K race and fun run, a Vieux Carre Commission auction, a talent show and pony rides, puppet shows and activities for children at the French Market, the French Quarter Festival offers something for everyone, all ages and interests. It’s a festival that’s in keeping with the New Orleans tradition of good food, good music and good times.
Sponsored by Coca-Cola, Miller High Life, and the Music Performance Trust Fund, the French Quarter Festival is a free community celebration.
What began in 1984 as a means of bringing locals back to the historic Vieux Carre, following street and sidewalk repairs in preparation for the World’s Fair, is now estimated to attract more than 250,000 to the French Quarter. While the event has great appeal to visitors, its main focus is still on New Orleans and its people. It’s the kind of event that reminds you of what life New Orleans is all about and brings back memories of the New Orleans we all love. If you’ve never been to a French Quarter Festival, you’ll never know what it means to miss New Orleans!
For a complete schedule of events for the French Quarter Festival, call (504) 522-5730.