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The Final Word

March/April 2017 Issue

All Shook Up

If you’ve already been to the glorious, joyful celebration known as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, you probably have a long list of favorite foods, traditions, and performers.


A parade breaks out at the Jazz & Heritage Festival. New Orleans CVB

But if you’re a Jazz Fest first-timer, this six-point guide will help get you up to speed. During this exuberant music festival that runs this year from April 28 through May 7 at the 145-acre Fair Grounds Race Course, there will be parades, brass bands, big-name performers, gumbo, gator with fried jalapeno and onions, and revelers wearing elaborate headdress. And that’s just in the first hour.

Here’s insider’s intel to get you started.

1. Catch the locals. Of course, you’ll want to catch big-name acts — last year, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and Neil Young were among the headliners — but keep in mind there are 12 stages with more than 500 bands over seven days. Don’t miss the local musical legends, like Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews or accordion-playing Nathan Williams Sr. and his Zydeco Cha-Chas.

2. Sample fabulous food. There’s a reason it’s called the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. New Orleans’ diverse culture as told through its cuisine takes center stage as more than 70 food vendors bring their best game. Certainly, everyone has his or her favorites, but do not miss Crawfish Monica (think mac and cheese with crawfish, garlic, and cayenne), cochon de lait po’boys (lines are long, but this sandwich made from shredded pork is non-negotiable), and Jama-Jama (Cameroonian fried spinach and plantains).

3. See a Mardi Gras Indian parade. You can’t exactly miss the drums and horns and lavish costumes of these spontaneous celebrations that wind their way through the fairgrounds. The elaborately colored bead-sequin-feather costumes can weigh up to 100 pounds, take months to assemble, and cost thousands of dollars. Or fall in with a second-line parade.

4. Scope out local bars. The music doesn’t start until 11 a.m., so true aficionados like to start and end the festivities at their favorite bar. Liuzza’s By the Track, The Seahorse Saloon, and Pal’s Lounge all come highly recommended.

Last official concert ends at 7 p.m., but the night, as they say in New Orleans, is still in diapers. Kristian Sonnier, vice president of communications at the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, has enjoyed 12 of the last Jazz Fests, and says the party continues into the city’s music venues.

“It’s a great time to explore the live music clubs because you never know who might sit in with who. I’ve bumped into Robert Plant, Dan Auerbach, and Del McCoury,” she said.

5. Pick up a souvenir. Limited-edition Jazz Fest posters are collectors’ items. A respected juried arts and craft festival, Jazz Fest artisans in the past have included New Orleans jewelry designer Mignon Faget and Louisiana Coushatta basket weavers. You also can purchase souvenir T-shirts, hats, and bandanas.

6. Make your debut simple and pain-free. There’s no public parking onsite, so savvy locals do one of three things:

  • They ride bikes. Parking for two-wheeled vehicles is plentiful at the Gentilly Boulevard and Sauvage Street pedestrian gates. Note that bikes are not allowed on the festival grounds.
  • They hop on Gray Line of New Orleans’ Jazz Fest Express. For about $20, you’ll get round-trip transportation from downtown stops, including the Sheraton hotel on Canal Street.
  • They get a one-day Jazzy Pass for $3 from the Regional Transit Authority that allows unlimited bus and streetcar rides.

Pam Grout is a contributor from Lawrence, Kan.



The New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, a useful resource for travelers, can be reached at
(800) 672-6124

Jazz Fest’s website,, will have current scheduling information and other updates about this year’s event.

For information on the Jazz Fest Express, call (504) 569-1401. Visit and click on “buy fares and passes” for Jazzy pass information.


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