New Orleans Big Festival Season Kicks Off

The New Orleans “big” festival season has officially kicked off.

We have festivals all year long, but the two biggies are now officially ready to blow us out musicially, artistically and with great local cuisine. The 31st annual French Quarter Festival officially announced its schedule of bands today, and as usual it contains all local musicians, but with a few surprises. For years, FQF couldn’t afford to hire the “big names” of local music:  Allen Toussaint , Dr. John , Irma Thomas. But that’s changed considerably as the festival has more than tripled in size in the last 10 years, something which has produced higher quality money sponsors, and increased revenues from beverage and merchandise sales (the major sources of revenue for the free festival).

Dr. John at last year's Jazz Fest. (Photo: Elsa Hahne)

This year, FQF seems to have scored a major coup: for the first time since 1987, Dr. John will play the Festival on the Abita Big River stage. Not only that, but according to Jazz Fest officials, the good doctor will not appear at this year’s Jazz Fest as he is on tour in Australia the first weekend, and is “planning [as-yet-to-be-announced] big night show over the second weekend.” So your only chance to experience Dr. John free of charge—or at all—in April will be at the French Quarter Festival. Tropical Isle owners Earl Bernhardt and Pam Fortner, who have been involved in sponsoring the event for 31 years, stepped up to sponsor Dr. John’s performance.

I was sort of shocked to realize that Mac won’t be playing Jazz Fest this year, and the first thing that came to my mind is that his current management was burnt by the lousy reception his band received last year at Jazz Fest (the set was roundly panned by almost all local media, including, and OffBeat), and decided that maybe they should pull back a bit: we’ll miss him so much we’ll want him back–in spades–next year. It was probably a mistake to debut a mostly new (mostly out-of-town) band last year when such hard scrutiny from fans was bound to occur. I’m sure that by now the kinks and band members have been worked out, and FQF-goers will be in for a rare treat.

New Orleans Soul Queen Irma Thomas will also perform, as will Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen and the New Orleans Suspects, Nigel Hall, Tank and the Bangas, Nathan and the Zydeoc Cha Chas, Dash Rip Rock, and many others who will make their debut at this year’s event.

A number of local bands/musicians will also make their debut at this year’s event. Complete list (as of today) is available here. We’ll post a searchable database tomorrow.

We’ve covered the big news in today’s post, but we’re also happy to report that Abita Beer’s delicious strawberry seasonal brew will also be available on draft at this year’s festival. FQF has also partnered with a consortium of technology companies in partnership with GE Capital, which recently located an office here. GNO head Michael Hecht touted FQF’s ability to preserve what’s unique about the city, and says the consortium is going to use the festival almost as a recruitment event, to continue to attract tech-minded businesses, entrepreneurs and young people to the city, as well as to enhance the qualifications of its workforce. Novel idea.

Both French Quarter Fest and the Jazz Fest released their official posters today. Jazz Fest’s official poster is the Preservation Hall Band by longtime Fest poster designer Terrance Osborne. French Quarter Fest tapped artist Varion Laurent (who did the 10th anniversary Satchmo Summerfest poster) to produce this year’s poster (which features Dr. John), and French folk artist Simon Hardeveld (his work graced OffBeat’s cover last year) to produce a second poster. The Jazz Fest’s Congo Square (second) poster has not yet been announced.


  • NOLAfan

    Are you sure 1987 is right for Dr John’s last FQF? I swear he appeared on the big Stage around 2000.