French Quartering

Now a day earlier and two days longer than it used to be, the 29th-annual French Quarter Festival begins tomorrow, Thursday April 12.

If you’ve had a chance to peruse this month’s issue of OffBeat, you’ll notice that the entire schedule for the Festival is included in OffBeat, along with maps, special events, workshops and interviews, food vendors and a lot more. Even better, the entire schedule is now accessible at our newly re-launched smartphone app for both iPhone and Android.

We’ll have staff and volunteers handing out OffBeat on the Capital One Shuttle buses and at our booth at Washington Artillery Park (on Decatur, just across from Jackson Square).

Personally, I’m a paper person when it comes to looking at festival schedules, and so are quite a few of the over-40 crowd, which is why we included the paper version in the April issue. We’re also including a paper version of the stage schedule in our annual Jazz Fest Bible, which will be on the street on April 24.

French Quarter Fest crowds—growing exponentially.

French Quarter Festival has gotten huge, and definitely becoming the “people’s festival”  for New Orleans. Many of us are unable to finance four days’ worth of entertainment  at the Jazz Fest, thus allowing the free French Quarter Fest as an alternative.

They’re certainly different and both wonderful in their own way. I think French Quarter Fest is the mother of all neighborhood festivals because it features so many of the local music and musicians we are familiar with and that we love. The Festival also invites so many locals who tend to avoid the French Quarter normally (shame on them!) back to the heart of the city, the Vieux Carre. It would benefit everyone in the metro area (and in Louisiana, for that matter) to come back to the Quarter and play tourist in one of the world’s most interesting cities and neighborhoods, particularly during French Quarter Fest.

The Quarter personifies everything that’s unique about New Orleans: it’s historic, it’s avant garde, it’s loud, it’s quiet on the streets that surround the touristy areas. It’s a real neighborhood where people live and get to know each other and it’s the heart of New Orleans’ hospitality industry. It’s prissy, it’s boho. The food ranges from potato po-boys to haute cuisine. It has some of the most elegant and expensive homes in New Orleans. It’s also the hangout for a lot of transients who are just passing through. The music is local and original, or loud and geared towards tourists who don’t know any New Orleans songs but “When the Saints Go Marching In.” There are spur-of-the-moment street parades with participants in homemade costumes (or none at all), Easter parades with expensively-clad ladies in custom-made hats, and outrageously fun and fancy gay parades.

In short, the Quarter is a microcosm of the best of what it’s like to live in New Orleans, and the French Quarter Festival celebrates that.

My only complaint about the Fest is that it’s gotten so huge that it’s becoming more and more crowded and needs to venture outside the Quarter because the Fest is bursting at the seams. They’ve already added two extra days to the festivities, but it still may not be enough. It needs to expand into Armstrong Park (when, oh when will the park be put back into the city’s consciousness in a big way?). The recent Congo Square Festival was one of the best little festivals I’ve been to in a long time, and perhaps the French Quarter Fest should put a stage, food and craft booths there as well next year.

Then, of course, there’s the need to move the Festival down into the Marigny on Frenchmen Street, with a stage on Washington Square Park.

I have no doubt, that as the Festival continues to grow, that these two expansions will become a necessity. For someone who’s a proponent of paying musicians for the art that’s a big part of what the Festival is all about, I’m happy to let you know that for the first time this year that French Quarter Festival  developed a program to pay musicians who perform, rather than requiring bands to find their own sponsor. For the very first time, French Quarter Festival is acknowledging that it’s a true music festival, and it’s acting like one.

Long may it live and grow!