An Insider's Guide to New Orleans Jazz Fest

Posted by Marie Elena Martinez on April 25, 2012 at 12:56:21 PM EDT | Post a Comment

New Orleans may be most famous for Mardi Gras, but it's the city's lively Jazz Fest that really trumpets the celebration of The Big Easy's musical heritage. From April 27 through May 6, Jazz Fest will celebrate local culture—from music to food to art—as a list of musical legends jam under the Southern sun. Celebrating its 43rd anniversary with blues, zydeco, folk, Latin, rap, and jazz, this year's line-up will take center stage on the Fair Grounds Race Course.

Performers are slated to include Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Tom Petty, the Foo Fighters, Cee Lo Green, Herbie Hancock, and My Morning Jacket, alongside New Orleans staples like Grammy-nominated Trombone Shorty, the Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, and Pete Fountain.

Festival-goers will encounter much more than just music inside the Fair Grounds. Creole cooking abounds in the two food villages, and whether you're after Cajun jambalaya, crawfish Monica (a local version of mac and cheese), or Andouille gumbo. It's all served on-site by loyal vendors who have been around since the festival's humble beginnings in 1970. After you've had your fill, hit the Gospel Tent for some soul, or scope out local musicians at any of the eleven stages.

Read on for a roundup on where to see live music, chow down, and rest your head when not soaking up Jazz Fest on the Fair Grounds.

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Where to See Live Music

Jazz Fest by night is equally rewarding. From sunset to nearly sunrise, the streets of New Orleans come alive with piano and saxophone riffs that float out the doorways of iconic venues like Blue Nile and Tipitina's. Storied spots like Maple Leaf Bar and Howlin' Wolf, which will host The Original Meters who'll play together for the first time in 30 years, hold steady crowds captive with the infectious flavor of brass bands and bayou sounds. Map out your own nightly schedule using the "nearly world famous" Jazz Fest Grids.

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Where to Eat

New Orleans is a foodie town, so after the music-fueled bender, there are plenty of spots to help cure the hangover. For a traditional Jazz brunch, hit beloved Commanders Palace, or if you're feeling less formal, slurp on some oysters and Bloody Marys at Acme. The Garden District's popular Camellia Grill just opened a French Quarter location at Chartres and Toulouse and has something for everyone, including club sandwiches and killer omelets. Domilise's is ground zero for po'boys, while Port of Call serves one of the best burgers in the nation.

New Orleans's Creole staples abound, though two especially stand out: On Oak Street, Jacques-Imo's has a laid-back, funky vibe and churns out favorites like stuffed catfish and Cajun bouillabaisse, while Galatoire's, housed in an award-winning, century-old formal dining room in the French Quarter, is a city institution.

New Orleans is brimming with talented chefs, and at the James Beard-nominated Cochon, Chef Donald Link's sublime plates showcase pork with modern Cajun twists. John Besh's farm-to-table fare at August, meanwhile, offers the same menu in the less formal, first-come, first-served barroom.

Once you're ready for something sweet, head to Café du Monde for their legendary beignets and a café au lait.

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Where To Sleep

Check into the French Quarter's new, boutique hotel The Saint, from the Marriott Autograph Collection (rates from $149/night), or, try the atmospheric Hotel Monteleone, a landmark that recently renovated its kitschy revolving carousel bar (rates from $399/night). The city's two W Hotels, one on Poydras Street (rates from $259/night), and one in the French Quarter (rates from $259/night), are centrally located, swanky spots to plant some stylish roots.

Tickets and More Info

Advance single-day tickets to Jazz Fest are priced at $50 online, or $65 at the gate. Children's tickets (ages 2–10) are $5, and only available at the entrance. For booking and more information, visit NOJazzFest.com.

Thinking of a trip to New Orleans?

For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our New Orleans Travel Guide.

Photo Credits: Music: Courtesy of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Inc./ ©2011 Douglas Mason; Eat: Coffee and Beignets at Cafe Du Monde by Frederick Dennstedt Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License; Sleep: Starwood Hotels & Resorts

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