Jazz Fest. Just the name conjures up saxophone-playing bands on a street corner. But reality is far different, and if it can be part of your New Orleans travel plans, it should.
New Orleans Travel Tip: See the official Jazz Fest site here.
The modern-day Jazz Fest is an internationally-known music festival comprising two weekends and attracting upwards of 600,000 visitors to the city of New Orleans. Jazz Fest is currently held during the day, between the hours of 11am and 7pm at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a horse racing track, on two weekends. The weekends are the last weekend in April (from Friday through Sunday) and the first weekend in May (Thursday through Sunday).
New Orleans Travel Tip: Directions to the Fairgrounds and proximity to the French Quarter can be found here, on the official Fairgrounds website.
Jazz Fest is a large festival of modern music, as well as gospel, Jazz, Latin, folk and other types, comprising over ten different stages and covering a large infield of the Fairgrounds Racecourse. It is often hot, sometimes rainy, all outdoors and often attracts some of the largest musical acts in the country.
In the 1960’s similar "New Orleans Jazz Festivals" were held by different organizers. But in 1970, the Jazz Fest, as we know it, was founded. The Festival has been held yearly since 1970. In that year, Jazz fest was founded by the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association, to form "the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation" that owns the Festival, and George Wein's "Festival Productions, Inc" was contracted to produce the Festival. Starting in 1972 Jazz Fest has been held at the New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack.
Posters are the big Jazz Fest collectible. The official poster series which began in 1975 has been very successful with many collectors, with the first being designed by Sharon Dinkins and Thorn Grafton. Posters feature a performer or theme of the Festival. All posters are commissioned by the Festival.
New Orleans Travel Tip: If you can get a poster get them to put it in a carboard tube. Often, plain-rolled posters don't make it home in good condition.
According to the official Jazz Fest website, "The Festival celebrates the indigenous music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana, so the music encompasses every style associated with the city and the state: blues, R&B, gospel music, Cajun music, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk music, Latin, rock, rap music, country music, bluegrass and everything in between. And of course there is lots of jazz, both contemporary and traditional."
There are also many other music events that take place around the city during Jazz Fest and the week in between the two weekends. The Festival is a major tourism destination, often with New Orleans travel hotel reservations made a year or more in advance.
New Orleans Travel Tip: You should consider reserving your hotel quite a bit in advance of your New Orleans travel. If you cannot get a downtown or a French Quarter hotel, there are others in the suburbs as long as you rent a car.
Even though Jazz Fest is a much commercialized festival, well-organized, and international in scope, it has stayed true to its roots in Louisiana. It has areas that are dedicated to cultural and historical practices unique to Louisiana. These include Cajun, Creole, and New Orleans specific heritages. This is no craft fair either – many of the artists who participate have won prestigious awards.
The festival and trademarks associated with the “Jazz & Heritage Festival” are owned by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, which uses the proceeds from the festival for year-round community development programs in the areas of education, economic development and culture.