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Quick Guide to the Jazz Fest

In 1970 the legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson returned to New Orleans and sang along with Duke Ellington and the Eureka Jazz Band in a wondrous parade in Congo Square. Two years later, the spirit of that event was born in the form of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. About 350 folks enjoyed the one day event. Today the Festival spans two weekends and thousands upon thousands attend. Unique Nola Tours wants you to enjoy the Fest fully and this is a quick guide.

Mikko Macchione

Tour Guide with Unique NOLA Tours and Author of books about New Orleans.

New Orleans Rum: A Decadent History

The Festival takes place during the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. It would be almost easier to list the mega-stars that have NOT played. Virtually every major player in every genre of American pop music has given electric performances – a very short list includes Stevie Wonder, Allman Brothers, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Celia Cruz and Burning Spear. Among the New Orleans’ greats that have appeared are Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, the Zion Harmonizers and Irma Thomas.

First and foremost get your tickets online right away. There are different options, and you could conceivably get them at the gate, maybe, after a long wait in the sun. There are single day tickets and weekend tickets. There are different levels (at different levels of expense of course) which offer perqs like VIP entry (no lines), special areas close to the stage, rest areas with bathrooms and bars, etc. We would like to mention the Brass Pass available by supporting the great New Orleans radio station WWOZ, but you’ll have to wait ’til next year (and don’t wait!) cuz they’ve already sold out for 2023.

The Festival is held on the race track at the New Orleans Fairgrounds, which is by City Park. If you are staying downtown you can take a shuttle from different locations. If you are driving, you can’t park on the grounds. The surrounding neighborhood residents often rent out parking spaces. Alternatively, you can park further afield – ten blocks or more away on regular street parking, this of course gives you a bit of a walk to the venue. Finally, bicycles are a great choice, find Esplanade Avenue and ride up until you see the gate.

Normally, the days are sunny and warm. Some days are brutally hot, and sometimes it rains. Rain will not cancel the shows, but heavy rains or heavy winds could shut down the festival for the day. If it does rain, mud will be your new best friend. Bring a hat, sunscreen, outdoor-friendly shoes (or dance barefoot), a charged phone and an umbrella is not a bad idea. If you’re with a group designate a meeting place in case half go see Wu Tang Clan and the other go see Lizzo and you go see Robert Plant.

The Festival is more than music, the greatest artists in the area display their passion, there are interviews with music legends and children’s activities. There are sections highlighting the various cultures of New Orleans: Native American, Cajun, African, Island and every other group. Finally every cuisine of this incredible region is highlighted at various food tents.

The festival is very big and the organizers have gotten really good at presenting an amazing experience. If you are up for a life-changing weekend of music, culture and seeing the soul of the most soulful city in America – put together your Jazz Fest trip!