Five things to know about the New Orleans Jazz Fest

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 45+ year history of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

The 1975 New Orleans Jazz Festival Poster

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 year’s festival starts Friday, April 22 and runs through Sunday May 1, with three-days to recuperate in the middle (no festival shows Monday – Wednesday). Go for the day or the whole fest.

New Orleans Fair Grounds is 145-acres. During Jazz Fest, 12 stages operate.

3. Tickets are easy to get at the gate. You can procrastinate and/or be spontaneous. They will have a ticket waiting for you. 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.

The founding members of The Meters will perform at 2015 Jazz Fest, from left: George Porter, Jr., Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli, , and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste

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)

LagniappeAt 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)

Tipitina’s keeps the legacy alive while contributing to the future

Professor Longhair may have memorialized the corner of Rampart and Dumaine in “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” but his memory and spirit live on at a different street corner, Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas, in a music venue that bears the name of another of his classics, “Tipitina.”

A bust of Professor Longhair (Henry Roeland Byrd) sculpted by Coco Robicheaux stands guard at the entrance of the New Orleans music venue that bears the name of his song Tipitina. – Photo by Alex Brandon / Times-Picayune archive

Rampart and Dumaine is the original location of J&M Studios, run by Cosimo Matassa. The location is recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a landmark site and it’s a laundromat – with mixed but generally positive Internet reviews.

Tipitina’s, on the other hand, is a great example of how cool stuff can happen out of love for music and doing the right thing. Just as Preservation Hall is dedicated to keeping New Orleans jazz alive, Tipitina’s was conceived with the notion of honoring the city’s early R&B and Rock ‘n Roll legacy.

When the venue opened in 1977, it’s goal was to provide a public performance space for aging and almost forgotten R&B and Blues artists like Fess (Henry Roeland Byrd), Jessie Hill, Snooks Eaglin, Earl King and others. Tips was born from an act of love by a group of investors who collectively and affectionately became known as the “fabulous fo’teen.”

Neville Brothers in front of the Longhair mural at Tipitina’s. Photo by Leon Morris from the WWOZ website.  WWOZ’s early years were spent located above Tip’s in the beer storage room.

The venue also provided a platform for other local musicians, such as the Radiators, Little Queenie and the Percolators, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Continental Drifters and the Neville Brothers.

Tipitina’s in those earlier years was quite a bit different than it is today.  Music author Jay Mazza described a summer show this way:  “Sometimes it was so humid in the place that the clouds of smoke seemed to be seeded with water.  The smoke hung low in the room. Both bands and patrons alike were soaked to the bone within minutes. A trick learned early on was to bring extra shirts for changing between sets. . . Still everyone loved the place . . there always has been an amazing vibe associated with Tipitina’s.”

While the venue provided many great musical moments in the late 70s and early 80s, it struggled financially and eventually shuttered for about a year and a half. When it reopened in 1986, a major renovation made it far more attractive for musicians and their patrons. The warehouse-like building was opened up, creating a balcony level with higher ceilings, better circulation, improved bathrooms, and air conditioning.

Tacoma band Girl Trouble performing at the Capitol Theater this month. Like Tipitina's the theater has a history of providing local groups a platform to perform.
Tacoma band Girl Trouble performing at the Capitol Theater this month. Like Tipitina’s the theater has a history of providing local groups a platform to perform.

This is a nice example of how some key changes could make an Olympia venue more attractive.

Tipitina’s also kicked up their bookings, continuing to stage local artists but adding national and international acts to the mix, building a worldwide reputation.

To get an idea of the artists who have performed at Tipitina’s, check out its index of musicians, some of whom are honored with additional recognition on the sidewalk outside: the New Orleans Walk of Fame.

Tipitina’s honors New Orleans musical legacy inside and outside with its Walk of Fame.

Another cool feature of Tipitina’s is its Foundation. It’s not every place where you can rock out to amazing music, with the understanding that profits go to support the very music scene you’re enjoying.  The Foundation purchases instruments for Louisiana schools, provides ongoing youth music workshops, offers an after school jazz and digital recording program under the artistic direction of Donald Harrison, Jr. and provides a a statewide network of workforce development and job skills training centers for musicians, filmmakers and other media professionals.

Jazz artist Donald Harrison, Jr. heads up the Tipitina’s internship program.

And you never know what you’ll find at Tips. An Olympia friend told me about how she and her partner on a NOLA visit wandered into the uptown bar on a late Sunday afternoon, ordered a beer and found themselves drawn into a Cajun Fais Do Do.

So next trip to NOLA, put Tips on your list. Until then, you can catch many of the musicians who perform there on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa, every Monday from 10 a.m. to noon on your community radio station, KAOS.