Beyond the Lineup: Jazz Fest

The annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, commonly referred to as Jazz Fest, celebrates local music and culture at the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, Louisiana. Drawing thousands of visitors each year, the festival is organized by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation Inc., established in 1970 as a 501(c)(3) non profit organization. Jazz Fest, sponsored by Shell Oil Company, serves as a means to channel funds back into the local community, in alignment with the Foundation’s mission to promote, preserve, and perpetuate Louisiana’s music, culture, and heritage through various cultural, educational, and economic activities.

The festival’s assets extend beyond its main event, encompassing WWOZ 90.7 FM radio station, the Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive, and The George & Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center. Additionally, the Foundation hosts the annual Jazz & Heritage Gala and supports educational programs and specialized festivals.

The roots of Jazz Fest trace back to 1962 when Olaf Lambert, manager of the Royal Orleans Hotel, invited jazz mogul George Wein to bring his festival model to New Orleans. However, racial tensions and segregationist policies hindered its inception until 1967 when Durel Black spearheaded efforts to revive the idea. Despite initial setbacks, Wein eventually took charge in 1969, recognizing the need for a revamped format and local collaboration.

Jazz Fest has a diverse array of local food and craft vendors, with a strict “no carnival food” policy. Culinary offerings range from crawfish beignets to muffulettas, showcasing Louisiana’s rich gastronomic heritage. Craft vendors display their wares across three main areas, highlighting local, national, and international artisans. The festival also dedicates space to Louisiana’s cultural and historical practices, featuring depictions of various cultural groups and hosting parades by Mardi Gras Natives, marching bands, and social aid and pleasure clubs. Renowned artists such as Ray Charles and Tina Turner have graced its stages, contributing to its reputation as one of the premier festivals in the nation.

Despite commercialization over the years, Jazz Fest remains rooted in its jazz origins, offering stages dedicated to diverse musical genres, panel discussions, cooking demonstrations, and more. The Congo Square stage, named in homage to a historic gathering place for enslaved black people, symbolizes the festival’s commitment to preserving African heritage and culture. In 2015, Jazz Fest celebrated the 40th anniversary of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), showcasing student artwork and alumni performances. The festival continues to foster partnerships with local schools, providing a platform for young artists to showcase their talents and honor the city’s rich artistic legacy.

This year, Jazz Fest has gifted festival lovers with a loaded lineup, ranging from some of the biggest names in music like The Rolling Stones, The Killers, Anderson .Paak, and Chris Stapleton, to smaller local favorites such as Big Freedia, Galactic, and Dumpstaphunk. The two-weekend event is happening from April 25th to May 5th, and it is guaranteed to be a proper NOLA party. You can enjoy the music and sunshine at the festival, and you can attend post-fest shows at the local New Orleans’ venues. The city makes sure that music and art is always going on. There will be plenty of quirky and amazing artwork, and flavors all around.

For more information and how to purchase tickets, click here. 


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