Festivals, Festivals!

Did you know that New Orleans hosts 120 festivals annually that are attended by 3.6-million people? Wow. That’s a lotta music, food, culture and beer!

New Orleans’ two biggest music festivals both presented their stage schedules this week: the “cubes” for Jazz Fest and the stage schedule brochure for French Quarter Fest.

You certainly can’t underestimate the excitement that both events generate. The Jazz Fest’s schedule was revealed in January, but the distribution of the cubes start the planning process on what great performances you might have to miss while trying to motivate back and forth through the Jazz Fest throng. Quint Davis and company announced a focus on Native American culture in the Cultural Exchange Village (last year, the cultural pavilion was located near Congo Square and focused on Haiti). This year the cultural focus includes performances, drum making, mask carving, food, exhibits and panel discussions.  Also new this year was the announcement that the AXS TV channel will cover the festival every day, and will broadcast it in a three-day, continuous live broadcast on the last three days of the Festival (May 3-5). AXS is available via DirecTV and Dish Network. The posters and Bayou Wear (Hawaiian shirts, dresses, etc.) merchandise was also revealed.

Musicians in the band Harmonouche with French Quarter Fest exec Marci Schramm at today's press conference at Court of Two Sisters.

The French Quarter Festival revealed its stage schedules earlier today, and announced some significant changes to programming. Chevron USA, now the title sponsor of the event, will sponsor a Cajun/Zydeco Showcase on a stage that will be located in the triangular park that separates the split between Decatur and North Peters Street (the site of the Bienville status), all four days of the Festival, with, according to Executive Director Marci Schramm, the “world’s largest dance floor,” which I assume means that Decatur Street will be closed to accommodate dancing and crowds. The House of Blues Stage moves indoors. There will be a new film festival sponsored in association with Timecode NOLA with features on New Orleans music and culture, as well as the lecture series “Let Them Talk” which is a series of interviews with local musicians. Both take place at the Old US Mint. The Children’s Headquarters is now sponsored by Chevron and will move to the Natchez Wharf with events on Saturday and Sunday. Chevron will also sponsor free pedicabs to take riders from one end of the Quarter to the other. French Quarter Fest showcased its three official posters and merchandise.

Both French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest are amazing festivals, and offer enjoyment that complement each other. It’s wonderful to see that in its 30th year of operation, French Quarter Festival has added more diversions to the festival mix of entertainment.

Some of things I’d like to see in the future at Jazz Fest:

  1. Jazz Fest provision for better access to large stages for handicapped patrons.
  2. Stabilization (or lowering) of prices for local patrons of Jazz Fest. Those ticket prices really are not unreasonable for everything that you get, but $65 at the gate prohibits a lot of locals who don’t have deep pockets from enjoying the Jazz Fest. The WWOZ Brass Pass is great (but expensive at $450!), but maybe it could be expanded to include a one-weekend lower price. This might open up the purchase of a Brass Pass to more buyers.
  3. More shaded areas at Jazz Fest; the heat and sun prevent some people from staying at the Fest for extended periods.

At French Quarter Fest:

  1. Redoing the idea of the brochure they use for their stage schedules. It’s got so much information that it’s awfully hard to read.
  2. Announcing stage schedules and performers much earlier.
  3. Expanding the Festival to Armstrong Park with at least two stages there, perhaps one at Washington Square Park as well, to alleviate the really bad crowding on the riverfront stages.
  4. More varied and higher-quality merchandise and posters.
  5. Providing improved handicapped access throughout the French Quarter Festival.

These are just my suggestions. If you have any, I’ll certainly pass them on to the right folks. Email me at janramsey@offbeat.com.

I love the fact that French Quarter Fest only has local musicians (except on its International Stage in Dutch Alley, which attracts trade jazz musicians from all over the world) , and that the musicians are now paid through a dedicated sponsorship fund (this just started two years ago; before then non-union musicians had to find their own sponsor).  I also love the fact that Jazz Fest has the wherewithal to present big-name acts to play at the event; local musicians still make up most of the entertainment. And, of course, the revenues from Jazz Fest accrue to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, which presents many free festivals, educational events and concerts.

French Quarter Fest announced that this year its gala at Antoine’s on April 11 will benefit The Roots of Music, the first time that the organization has donated its proceeds to a music educational project.

If you don’t live in New Orleans, you have a right to be envious. We have the best festivals in the world. And they are right around the corner!

 

  • Philly Jazz man

    It is with great regret that after 23yrs I will not be attending Jazz fest, 2 reasons, the daily ticket cost, and that the fest has evolved over the yrs into a rock concert at the expense of nola’s extraordinary musical heritage, it’s mission when the fest first started.
    I am not abandoning Nola, (I am a frequent visitor) but I am planning on going to the French Quarter Fest for more of the local flavor that the Fest organizers (sorry, Quint) has forgotten about.

    • Mississippi Fats

      I agree 100% with everything you said! I used to plan every year to attend Jazz Fest (since ’71); many times just flying in for a Sunday, then back home to work on Monday. After seeing $50 parking fees and $65 tickets, I decided last year would be MY LAST YEAR. What use to be a great musical event, now seems to have evolved into a great ‘money-maker’. I realize and appreciate the many social benefits that are funded by the ‘fest’, but I would much rather see families attending with picnic baskets (like in the ’70&’80’s) than ‘The Beach Boys’, ‘Eagles’, or ‘the boss’.

  • bill

    Ha! two things= French Quarter Festival, and International Music Festival Lafayette = NO MORE TICKETS! No more fighting for spots near a stage.