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Trombone Shorty at Jazz Fest 2015
Trombone Shorty at Jazz Fest 2015
Trombone Shorty at Jazz Fest 2015

The Ultimate Jazz Fest Guide

Fest like a pro this spring

What is Jazz Fest?

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, more commonly referred to as Jazz Fest, is an annual festival celebrating music, art, culture and heritage of New Orleans. Over the years, it has worked its way into the hearts of locals and visitors alike.

Paul Broussard
Dancing at the Fais Do Do Stage

“The Louisiana Heritage Festival,” was the original concept by George Wein. He envisioned a daytime fair with multiple stages featuring a variety of local music styles, Louisiana cuisine, arts & crafts and evening concerts. 

The first Jazz Fest took place April 22-26, 1970 in Congo Square with an all-star lineup that included New Orleans native Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Pete Fountain, The Preservation Hall Brass Band, Mardi Gras Indians and many others. Only 350 attended the inaugural event, but that would soon change. 

Today, Wein’s original vision remains the basic premise of the festival, and Jazz Fest welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the historic Fair Grounds Race Course where it is now held. The festival is now overseen and coordinated by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation as they continue to feature local and international talents on the Jazz Fest platform. 

Now that you know a little more about what Jazz Fest is, a brief history, and the amazing impact it has on the city I’m sure you’re wondering how to book and navigate a once in a lifetime Jazz Fest experience of your own. Look no further! 

When should I book my flight + hotel for Jazz Fest?

Earlier is always better. It’s best to book your flight for Jazz Fest before the lineup is announced in January but don’t fret if you’re a little late in the game. Delta Airlines and Jazz Fest have partnered together to offer specially discounted rates. Use meeting event code: NY2J6 to book your Jazz Fest flight on Delta Airlines. 

As a general rule, you’ll find better fares if you fly mid-week. And because Jazz Fest is such a huge celebration in New Orleans, even if you get in a couple days before the weekend starts or leave in between weekends, you’ll find plenty to do around the city in between (more on that later!).

As far as lodging, the closer you are to the Fairgrounds the easier the commute. Check out this selection of Bed & Breakfasts along Esplanade Ridge that will make your commute to Jazz Fest a breeze. You can also check with hotels to see if they provide shuttle service to and from the fairgrounds, as many do during the festival. 

Tickets - when is the best time to buy?

General Admission Jazz Fest tickets are available for purchase on the Jazz Fest site, via Ticketmaster or at the gates the day of the fest. It is recommended to purchase tickets in advance as early bird discounts do apply. 

Paul Broussard
The Entrance to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

General admission allows access to all performances the day of use, access to the wide range of food, drink and craft vendors, fest exhibits and much more. But please note that food, drink and craft purchases are not covered in the cost of admission.

A variety of VIP tickets and packages are also available for purchase online. Purchasing in advance is highly recommended as there are a limited number of VIP tickets. To learn more about ticket packaged and to compare, visit here

When will the Jazz Fest lineup be announced? What are Jazz Fest “cubes”?

Jazz Fest always takes place the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. Lineups are typically announced in January. Check their official website for updates and announcements. Once announced, you can also find lineup information on NewOrleans.com

Jazz Fest Cubes are master schedules that let fest-goers know who will be performing on what day, time and stage over the two-weekend fest. Jazz Fest Cubes are announced closer to the festival near the end of March and beginning of April. The Cubes will be made available first on the jazz Fest official website found here.

Devonte Williford
Biking Around New Orleans

What’s the best way to get around during Jazz Fest?

Jazz Fest is held at the Fair Grounds Race Course in Gentilly. Because of the high traffic volume during Jazz Fest weekend, it’s recommended to utilize public transportation methods such as the RTA Buses and the NOLA Blue Bikes. Just $9 can purchase a 3-day pass, which can make traveling to and from Jazz Fest a breeze. The Jackson-Esplanade Bus (91) drops off only a few blocks from the entrance. Personal or bike-shares are also suggested. While bikes are not allowed on fest grounds, there will be a reserved space for securing bikes outside. The Jazz & Heritage Festival will also be offering shuttle services from different accommodations and locations throughout the city. Learn more about the Jazz Fest shuttle service here

What should I wear to Jazz Fest?

Jazz Fest is a unique festival dedicated to and reflective of the culture of the city of New Orleans. Wear something expressive, unique and fun! Do, however, keep in mind that Jazz Fest happens rain or shine! Check the forecast daily and remember that a light rain jacket or boots are never a bad idea. The festival takes place in April and May, which is usually warm in New Orleans. Shorts and a hat are good ideas. 

Cheryl Gerber
Fest Fashion - New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

What should I bring?

While there will be ATMs throughout the fest grounds, remember to bring your own cash to avoid ATM and vendor fees for card transactions. Collapsible chairs, blankets and ground tarps are ideal for sitting down and enjoying the concerts throughout the fairgrounds. Other than factory-sealed water bottles, no outside food or beverages are allowed upon entry. For a full list of approved and prohibited items, visit here. 

What kind of food can I find at Jazz Fest?

Daily general admission to Jazz Fest includes access to a sea of awesome, local vendors! With two areas dedicated only to food vendors, stands around the fest, a kids food section and several other special stations - there will be plenty to choose from. Sweet and savory, seafood and sandwiches and everything in between. Fest vets will swear by the Crawfish Monica, Crawfish Bread and the Mango Freeze. There’s also a number of vegan and vegetarian options throughout the fest.

All food purchases are separate from your admission, so plan to bring cash. Another pro tip is to split several things within your group so that you try even more delicious things.

You can also find beer, wine, iced tea, lemonade and more for sale in different locations throughout the festival.

Paul Broussard
Congo Square Stage - New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

How many stages are there and what can I expect at each stage?

Jazz Fest has a number of stages and tents dedicated to different genres of music and performances, fest activities and even live demonstrations. The following can be found on fest grounds:

  • The Acura Stage - Main Stage 
  • Gentilly Stage - Secondary Main Stage. 
  • The Congo Square Stage - Afro-centric and World Music
  • Blues Tent - Blues Music
  • Jazz Tent - Contemporary Jazz Music 
  • Gospel Tent - Gospel Musicians and Performers 
  • Kids Tent - Children's Music and Performances 
  • The Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do Do Stage - Cajun & Zydeco Music 
  • Jazz & Heritage Stage - Mardi Gras Indians + Brass Band Performances  
  • Allison Miner Music Heritage - Panel Discussions, Fest Information + Live Interviews. 
  • Food Heritage Stage - Live Cooking Demonstrations
  • Cajun Cabin - Live Cajun Cooking Demonstrations 
  • Economy Hall Tent - Traditional New Orleans Jazz 
  • Lagniappe Stage - A potpourri of sound and style

A PDF map and breakdown of the fest grounds can be found here.

Another pro-tip: the tents offer shade and misting areas, which are great ways to take a break from the sun while also enjoying world class entertainment. The tent areas also provide seating, so you can give your feet a rest (although resisting the urge to dance isn’t always as easy). 

What should I do during the week in between?

If you’re a true Jazz Fest fanatic and you bought tickets for both weekends there’s no need to fret about the week in between because there’s plenty to see and do. Spend your week exploring all that Esplanade Ridge has to offer with this specially curated itinerary. Enjoy restaurants, shops, activities and nightlife. Check out more live music on Frenchmen Street or get inspired here. 

For more information on the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, visit here. Make sure to check the Jazz Fest listing periodically for updates and new announcements.