The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a sprawling, rollicking celebration of Louisiana music, food, and culture on the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. Not just about all that jazz, you’ll also hear rock, Cajun, zydeco, gospel, rhythm and blues, hip-hop, folk, world music, country, and Latin. Headliners this year include Arcade Fire, The Strokes, The Avett Brothers, Bon Jovi, and Wilco. We’ve got insider tips on what you need to know about crowds, tickets, and getting around.
1. Buy tickets in advance. You can purchase advance tickets through Ticketmaster. If you are in town a few days before the festival, you’ll get the best price by picking tickets up yourself at the Jazz Fest box office in the New Orleans Arena (1501 Girod Street), which is open weekdays from 9 to 4:30. Advance tickets good for one day’s admission are $45 (plus a few dollars for service fees). Expect to pay $15 more (and possibly endure long lines) if you wait to pay at the festival entrance. Children 2–10 pay $5 in advance or at the gate. VIP luxury packages are also available, which start at $450/weekend.
2. Don’t drive. The Fair Grounds Race Course, near City Park in Mid-City, is 10 minutes outside of the French Quarter. Parking at the fairgrounds is expensive and extremely limited and meter maids are out in full force. Your best bet for transportation is roundtrip bus service from the French Quarter, the Riverwalk, and City Park, which runs continuously from 10:30 am to 7:30 pm and costs $17 roundtrip ($14 including parking from City Park). A cab from the French Quarter to Jazz Fest will run you around $12.
3. Bring cash. It goes faster than you think—and the ATM line is often at its longest when you’re craving a bowl of gumbo or have to get back to hear your favorite band. Besides the amazing food tents, you may also want to buy some crafts to support the arts and to bring home something truly unique.
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4. If you’re traveling with a group, have a meeting spot. Cell-phone service can be spotty and trying to find someone in a sea of flags can be harder than you think. If possible, put a blanket down some place that everyone knows and pick a time to reconvene at the end of the day.
5. Bring binoculars. The most popular acts are the hardest to see—even at stages with large screens.
6. Remember what your mother said to you when you went to the beach: wear a hat, put on sunscreen, and drink lots of water. The same goes at the Jazz Fest. Though if you forget any these necessities, they are available at the General Store in the fairgrounds.
7. Wear comfortable shoes. The fairgrounds is a race track and you will be walking through grass, dust, dirt, and sand, so keep the stilettos at home and pull out flip-flops.
8. Discover your inner Cajun. Even if you have two left feet, the Fais-Do-Do stage, where Cajun and zydeco bands play, is a haven for dancers of all ages and abilities.
9. After the Fest, visit nearby bars or restaurants. Just outside the fairgrounds around Esplanade Avenue are a number of places to continue the party: Liuzza’s by the Track and Pal’s Lounge at the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Moss Street; or for more refined doings, Cafe Degas or Lola’s (504/488-6946).
10. Exercise patience. New Orleans has its own rhythm, and so does Jazz Fest. There are often lines for food, drink, or the Port-O-Lets. People will continuously step on your blanket on their way to get closer to a band or to see friends. And it can be really hot. But guess what? Everyone around you is in the same situation—so sit back and relax. You’re at Jazz Fest to have a good time.
Photo Credit: Jazz Fest by Alex Demyan and NewOrleansOnline.com, Preservation Hall Jazz Band Courtesy Wikimedia