No matter how carefully you plan your visit to New Orleans, you will have just missed a festival or two and come too early for a couple of others. In spring and fall, it seems there’s a celebration of some sorts happening every week. Yet none of them come close to the Jazz Fest. It’s the equivalent of Mardi Gras for music lovers and a must-do if you are a fan of New Orleans style jazz.
Despite attracting huge crowds of people, the Fest seems to be a connoisseurs’ affair. To avoid some of the common faux pas of a first-time visitor, here are some basic do’s and don’ts to observe:
Don’t think the tickets are expensive
I’ve heard a couple of local people complain about the price of the tickets increasing every year. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The large influx of tourists flocking to the city for their annual dose of live music drives the demand. Admittedly, at 75 USD per day, the tickets are not cheap. Especially as you will want to come back the next day and the day after that, too. But for that price, you get to listen to some of the biggest names of jazz, blues and soul, plus at least one international star like Sting or Rod Stewart. Compared to 20 USD cover charge at most Frenchmen street bars this feels like snatching a real bargain.
Do get acquainted with local music stars before hitting the venue
If the names like Irma Thomas, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Fats Domino, or Jon Batiste don’t ring a bell you might want to delve deeper into who’s who of New Orleans music first. I’m not saying that you won’t equally enjoy the Fest if you know nothing about its biggest stars (past and present). But learning some background is the basic Jazz Fest etiquette. Don’t be the ignorant fool who goes to the Fest just because everyone else does.
Don’t stick to the names you know or music styles you prefer
You should know what you’re getting yourself into. Jazz Fest means non-stop music at 12 different stages from 11 am to 7 pm. Even if you had the organizing skills of Monika Geller it would be impossible to plan the perfect day without missing some of the best acts. The detailed daily schedule at the Where Y’At Magazine is a good starting point to come up with some sorts of a schedule. But allow yourself some time to explore, too. With music styles ranging from traditional jazz to New Orleans bounce, there are plenty opportunities for that. You thought you don’t like gospel? Give it a try, it might surprise you!
Do invest in a picnic chair
When it comes to equipment there is no way you can compete with seasoned Jazz Fest goers. A tarp to mark their territory, camping chairs and drink coolers are only the bare essentials. High flagpoles to find their spot in the crowd are a sign of true pros. So, investing in a cheap (8 USD) picnic chair is the least you can do to show that you know how things are done around here. Set it up at the stage you want to end the day at to save your spot. And don’t worry about someone stealing it if you wander around to other stages. Everyone already has their own much comfier version with the extra leg support and canopy to offer them shade.
Don’t bother with the festival swag, you’ll never look like you belong
Colourful shirts, fanciful hats and pretty parasols are the accessories of choice at the Fest. You might feel tempted to get the complete bayou wear outfit from one of the arts and crafts stalls around the Festival grounds. Don’t bother, it will only look silly on you and you will never fit in.
Do buy a hat though
New Orleans sun can be blistering hot in the end of April. As you will probably lack the necessary equipment to offer you shade (see above), a wide-brimmed hat will prevent you from having a heat stroke. And when the heat becomes unbearable (which it does), you can always find some respite at one of the tents.
Don’t miss the food stalls
Food is an equally important part of the whole event as music. Next to recommendations which acts to listen to you will also find tips which foods to try. Crawfish Monica, creamy pasta with crawfish, seems to be the all-time favourite. But there are plenty other options to try and at the end of the day, you will probably have eaten more than you intended to. No surprises there. The aromas of all the grilling, roasting and frying are simply irresistible.
Do save some energy for the evening
When the Fairgrounds gates close the party continues at many bars and clubs around the city. During the Jazz Fest, New Orleans must be the city with the greatest density of world-class musicians per square mile. This is also the time when many locally born stars return to their home city to perform on their old turf. Or, if you get real lucky you might stumble into a surprise jam session with a top performer like Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. Check the WWOZ Livewire for the latest schedule of live events.