I have said it once and I will say it again, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the best festival I have ever been too. I have attended many great music festivals in the past like Hangout Music Fest in Alabama and Bonnaroo Music and Arts Fest in Tennessee, but N.O. Jazzfest trumps them all. I have a true love and appreciation for music and Jazzfest never disappoints on that front. But everything about this festival is extraordinary. The food is some of the best you will ever eat, not just in Nola but in your whole life. The multiple arts and crafts booths are littered with beautiful handmade pieces from artisans throughout the city. Plus, there truly is no better place to host this fest than the lively, picturesque and downright one-of-a-kind city that is New Orleans.
As I have mentioned before in my New Orleans Travel Guide post, the first time I ever went to Jazzfest, or New Orleans for that matter, was when I was 17 during a trip with my highschool guitar class. It was a life-changing. I was on a sensory overload from seeing all the beautiful sights, talking to all the lovely locals and smelling all the sweet (and sour) smells of the French Quarter. I loved every single minute of it though and years later I still can’t stay away.
Since then, I have been to Jazzfest 5 times. It would have been 6, but last year a literal squall came through Nola, raining out the fest and our AirBnB… seriously. We were going to see Tom Petty and I was, and still am, devastated. So after we got the news Jazzfest was cancelled, we hopped on the streetcar and headed downtown. I was pouting the whole ride and randomly checked FaceBook. My heart dropped again. Tom Petty decided to play after all. It was too late. He already started performing and we were in the middle of the streetcar line far away from our place. We would have had to go all the way back, drive to the Jazzfest Express pickup, park, get on the bus to the fest and trek through the rain and mud to Tom Petty.
Looking back, even if we only made it to the last 30 seconds of his set, we should have done it. He will always be one of my favorite artists and a true musical legend. RIP Tom Petty.
Anyway, my guitar teacher always said, “You are considered a Jazzfest Veteran if you have attended more than 2 Jazzfests.” That being said, I reckon I am a Vet by now. I have learned some tips and tricks during my stint as a Vet. So, here are some things to keep in mind, bring and try if you are attending N.O. Jazzfest this spring.
Things to Consider:
1. Jazzfest Express: Take this bus and your fest experience automatically becomes easier. There is very little parking around the fest grounds and it can be pricey. Pay the $25, park your car safely and take the air-conditioned bus to and from the fest. Trust me on this.
2. Buy your ticket(s) in advance: Fest tickets the day of are sometimes $10 more than if you just buy it ahead of time.
3. Don’t forget your tickets: I know this seems like a “duh” thing to say, but this happened to me once. We arrived in Nola when I realized I didn’t have them. I had to call TicketMaster and wait in line at will call to get new tickets once I got to the fest. Ultimate waste of time.
4. Get there early: The fest goes from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. While the “bigger” acts play later in the day, it can get really crowded the longer you wait to go. Try to get there as soon as you can to soak up all the awesomeness.
5. Check out the Grandstand area: Jazzfest is held on a horse racetrack. So, there is a huge Grandstand that not only has real toilets and sinks, but cold water and A/C. If you need a reprieve from the heat, sit in there for a bit and relax. There are musical acts in there sometimes too.
Things to Bring:
1. Sunscreen: Don’t be an idiot. Wear SPF. Jazzfest occurs in late April/early May so it can be sweltering hot and humid. You will 100% get burned and be a sad lobster for the rest of your trip if you don’t.
2. Headwear: Wear a hat, visor, etc. It’s cute and all to wear the flower crowns with your hair down, but we all know you are miserably hot and a scalp burn is never cute. Wear a hat or put your hair up with a visor. Comfort > cuteness.
3. Sunglasses: If you absolutely gotta wear the flower crown, at least bring some sunglasses. You are going to be in the sun for the majority of the day and squinting to see the performances is just not fun. Lots of people also bring umbrellas for shade if you would rather go that route.
4. WATER: Again, don’t be an idiot. You are allowed to bring a resealable water bottle to the fest. Fill it up as often as possible to keep hydrated.
5. Backpack: Really any small bag or fanny pack will do but a backpack can hold your sunscreen, water bottles, and more. You are allowed to bring chairs and blankets into the fest as well so a backpack is ideal.
6. Blankets and/or collapsible chairs: You will need something to relax and eat on in between sets or in the shade. Some people stake out their territory with chairs and chill all day in “their spot”, awaiting one band and never leave. I personally despise those people, but a chair and/or blanket is a good idea so you can sit and avoid getting grass in your pants.
7. A portable phone charger: The last thing you want is to get separated from your friends and have no way to get in touch. Jazzfest is gigantic. Keep your phone charged. If only for the selfies.
8. Cash cash cash: Jazzfest runs almost exclusively on cash. Yes, there are ATMs, but avoid a $4 charge to your debit card and bring plenty of cash for food, drinks and a tacky gator claw souvenir for a weird family member.
Things to wear:
1. Comfortable clothes: Like I said earlier, comfort is key. Wear something light and breezy.
2. Closed toe comfy shoes: I learned this the hard way. Don’t wear sandals. As mentioned before, Jazzfest is held on a horse racetrack so it can get dusty. Nothing is sexy about a sweaty dirt outline on your feet. Also, you are going to be walking a lot so wear something that doesn’t make your feet cry.
3. Headwear: See above.
Things to explore:
1. Food booths: Jazzfest has some of the best food I have ever had in my entire life and I am not kidding. Try everything. My personal favorites are the Crawfish Monica (pictured above), pork and sausage jambalaya and fried crawfish tails with boiled Cajun potatoes and lots of Crystal’s hot sauce. Veggie and vegan options are available too.
2. Arts & Crafts: Beautiful local artwork and handmade crafts are available for sale at the fest. Jewelry, wind chimes, art prints, knick knacks and any other décor you could want are there so give yourself time to peruse.
3. Music tents & stages: There are 2 large stages that will host the main musical acts of the day. However, there are numerous other tents and stages housing any kind of music you can think of. Gospel, Blues, R&B, literally everything. Many local musicians play in these locations and they are truly inspirational.
I hope that this helps you if you intend to go to N.O. Jazzfest or any music festival this year! Check out my New Orleans Travel Guide for things to do while you are in the city too ♥