I originally posted this in 2015 but have updated it so the links are still good and the information is relatively ageless.
It’s never too late to make plans for Jazz Fest. If you accept this mission, you will join the millions of satisfied music lovers worldwide who have made this pilgrimage during the 50+ year history of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
To help you move from idle curiosity into action, here are a handful of things you should know about the New Orleans Jazz Fest. (Also, here’s a later post as to why you might consider visiting New Orleans when it is not JazzFest.)
1. It’s more than Jazz. The festival combines world-class and national acts with some of the best regional music of all types. There are stages for blues, gospel, zydeco and cajun, world, kids stuff and, of course jazz. On the rest of the stages you’ll see funk, hip hop, Mardi Gras Indian, rock, folk, latin, pop, brass bands, oh heck, . . look at the lineup. Not to mention, you’ll have access to Second Line parade demonstrations, excellent food and local crafts.
2. Last weekend in April and first weekend in May. That’s always the formula. This means that the 2020 festival starts Thursday, April 23 and runs through Sunday May 3, with three-days to recuperate in the middle (no festival shows Monday – Wednesday). Go for the day or the whole fest.
3. Tickets are easy to get at the gate. You can procrastinate and/or be spontaneous. They will have a ticket waiting for you (unless they book the Rolling Stones again). It’s highly unlikely the festival will sell out. It takes a lot of bodies to fill the Fair Grounds Race Course. Day passes are $75 and sold with efficiency at the entry points. You can buy in at advance if you want. But after Ticketmaster takes its pound of flesh, you save less than a price of beer per ticket. Or you can buy a brass pass and go all seven days.
4. Hotels can be expensive but plentiful; cheaper further out. It’s over $300 a night to stay downtown/French Quarter. Cheaper further out. If you have a car, Slidell, Metairie or some other suburb is an affordable option. But not as fun as being in close. Since I like embedding in a neighborhood, I use AirBnB. Yes, almost everyone charges more during Jazz Fest.
5. The best shows are not always the “big” shows. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage folks always assemble an intriguing top of ticket with big acts such as Elton John, The Who, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Paul Simon and other big touring acts you can see just about anywhere. I understand if you have to see one of these. However, if you skew your viewing portfolio toward local legends and masters, particularly those who rarely perform together these days, you will reap even bigger dividends.
Each year, the festival attracts New Orleans centric acts that you might otherwise be able to catch. Try to catch acts that form just for this event (such as musical tributes) or come back together again (the Radiators, Meters)
Lagniappe – At some point, you must get your ass in the Economy Hall Tent and shake it. (Second Line Umbrella optional). Nuff said.
There are lots of other resources for the details, starting with Jazz Fest site. To hear some of the music that you would hear at Jazz Fest, be sure to tune in on Thursdays. Also, join me on my journey, learning about the New Orleans music scene by subscribing (upper right side of this page)