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The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, often known as Jazz Fest, is an annual celebration of the music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana. Use of the term "Jazz Fest" can also include the days surrounding the Festival and the many shows at unaffiliated New Orleans nightclubs scheduled during the Festival event weekends.
According to the official Jazz Fest website, "The Festival celebrates the indigenous music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana, so the music encompasses every style associated with the city and the state: blues, R&B, gospel music, Cajun music, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk music, Latin, rock, rap music, country music, bluegrass and everything in between. And of course there is lots of jazz, both contemporary and traditional."
Jazz Fest is currently held during the day, between the hours of 11am and 7pm, at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a horse racing track located in historic Mid-City. Each year, it is held on the last weekend of April (Friday-Sunday) and the first weekend of May (Thursday-Sunday). For two years following Hurricane Katrina, the second weekend was Friday through Sunday only, but the Thursday was restored in 2008.
Even more music events than usual take place around the city during Jazz Fest weekends and also throughout the week in between. The Festival is a major tourism destination, with an importance for New Orleans rivaled only by Mardi Gras. The event earns the local economy $300 million annually.
Early Jazz Fests featured almost exclusively local acts; as the Festival's popularity grew, the event expanded to include more nationally known acts.
Food, Crafts, and Attractions
The Festival also features a wide variety of vendors selling local foods and crafts. The official food policy of the Festival is "no carnival food" and there are more than seventy food booths, all with unique food items including: Mango Freeze, crawfish beignets, cochon de lait sandwiches, alligator sausage po' boy (sandwich), boiled crawfish, softshell crab po'boy, Cajun jambalaya, jalapeño bread, fried green tomatoes, Oyster patties, muffulettas, red beans and rice, and crawfish Monica. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available. All food vendors go through a strict screening process to ensure quality and sanitary food handling practices. In addition, most foods are made with fresh, local ingredients, and are prepared by hand. All food vendors are small, locally owned businesses. There are eight food areas, all with different foods: Food Area I, Food Area II, Congo Square, Heritage Square, Around the Grounds, the Folk Area, the Grandstand, and a Kids' Food section. The food has received rave reviews from The New York Times in the past.
There are also craft booths dispersed throughout the grounds in three areas: the Congo Square African Marketplace, Contemporary Crafts, and the Louisiana Marketplace. The Congo Square African Marketplace contains pieces from local, national, and international artisans, and has the atmosphere of a true marketplace. Many of the artisans utilize ancient crafting techniques. In the Contemporary Crafts area, one can find handmade clothing, leather goods, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, and musical instruments, and visitors can also watch demonstrations of metal, painting, pottery, and fiber works. Lastly, the Louisiana Marketplace contains baskets, hand-colored photographs, jewelry, and landscape-themed art.
One unique aspect of the Festival is the allocation of large areas for dedication to cultural and historical practices unique to Louisiana. These dedications depict many cultures that exist in the state, including both the Cajun culture and the culture of the descendants of native Canary Islanders, the Los Isleños, as well as many others. Some of the areas include the Louisiana Folklife Village, which focuses on state art and culture, the Native American Village, and the Grandstand. Many of the folk demonstrators have been recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts for their work.
In addition, parades are held throughout the duration of the event. They include parades by the Mardi Gras Indians, as well as by marching and brass bands and various social aid and pleasure clubs.
The Festival has been held annually since 1970, when it was founded by the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association, to form "the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation" that owns the Festival. George Wein's "Festival Productions, Inc" was contracted to produce the Festival. Wein was the producer of the Newport Jazz Festival (1954) and the Newport Folk Festival (1959) in Newport, Rhode Island.
To produce the Festival in New Orleans, Wein put together a key group of artistic advisers, among them Ellis Marsalis, Richard B. "Dick" Allen and Harry Souchon. Dick Allen, the curator of Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archives, recommended Archive employee Allison Miner and intern Quint Davis to Wein to help produce the first festival. Both Miner and Davis knew a great deal about jazz. They went to the black clubs to recruit performers, rather than to Bourbon Street or other tourist destinations, because it was at these clubs that live music was being produced. The first person the pair booked was Snooks Eaglin, who was a street singer at the time, and who performed at the festival every year thereafter. Both volunteered for the "labor of love" that was the festival, and were not compensated. After Wein established the Festival, Miner and Davis oversaw the day-to-day operations of Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans for many years, under the supervision of Wein and the Foundation Board. Quint Davis currently holds the position of CEO of Festival Productions, Inc.- New Orleans, while Miner is largely credited with the founding the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive.
The Archive contains recordings from musicians interviewed at the festival, as well as other documents, photographs, and ephemera related to the Festival and the Foundation's holdings, including early WWOZ 90.7-FM recordings. It contains business records, photographs, video and audio recordings, as well as other artifacts. The Archive is open to the public by appointment.
When Miner died on December 23, 1995, the interviewing stage was renamed in her memory as the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage. After Hurricane Katrina, the stage was temporarily merged with the Lagniappe Stage, which is housed in the Grandstand. However, in 2009, it was reinstated as a full stage.
Prior to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, similar "New Orleans Jazz Festivals" were held by different organizers in the 1960s. The first two New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals in 1970 & 1971 were held in Louis Armstrong Park, then known as Beauregard Square, in the area of the park known to be the historic Congo Square, and in the adjoining New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. The 145-acre New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack began to hold Jazz Fest in 1972. The venue is located at 1751 Gentilly Boulevard, approximately ten minutes from the French Quarter. The New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack is a much larger venue than Congo Square, and was chosen to hold the Festival when organizers realized how successful and popular the event was and could potentially grow to be.
The first Jazz Fest, in Congo Square, cost $3 for admission and was minimally advertised, and had only a Gospel Tent and four open stages, many of which had no microphones. The visiting musicians were housed in Davis' and Miner's homes; there was no money for hotels. The festivities kicked off on Wednesday night, with the Pete Fountain and Clyde Kerr orchestras playing on a midnight steamboat ride.
The first Jazz Fest lineup included artists Mahalia Jackson (who was not booked, but simply heard about the Festival and showed up to sing), The Preservation Hall Band, Duke Ellington, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Clifton Chenier, Fats Domino, The Meters, Snooks, and many others. This first lineup received an audience of only 350 people, but the numbers grew exponentially each year, especially after the introduction of the limited- edition silkscreen poster series in 1975. By the end of the 1980s, attendance peaked at 300,000 and, in 2001, when Louis Armstrong's centennial was celebrated, 650,000 people attended.
Over the years, Jazz Fest has been named "Festival of the Year" four times, by Pollstar magazine. The event has also been praised by the likes of Life magazine and The Wall Street Journal.
The love of Jazz Fest has cemented thousands of friendships over the years. Fessheads, Pet de Kat Krewe, Threadheads and other sub-groups reunite annually at the Fair Grounds Race Course where their ritual includes hoisting flags and spirit poles to easily spot each other among the thousands of festival attendees. These sub-groups throw Jazz Fest parties with top musical talent, invites are via word-of-mouth.
The official poster series, which began in 1975, has been very successful with many collectors; the first poster was designed by Sharon Dinkins and Thorn Grafton. Posters feature a performer or the overall theme of the Festival, and all posters are commissioned by the Festival. In 1998, the Festival added the Congo Square poster series. Artists such as James Michalopoulos, George Rodrigue, Douglas Bourgeois, John Scott, and Bill Hemmerling have all been featured designers of the official festival poster. Congo Square posters have been created by such African American artists as Aziz Diagne, Elizabeth Catlett, Bill Pajaud, and Terrance Osborne. Terrance Osborne (37) designed the poster for 2012 (as well as the 2007 and 2010 posters), which featured beloved Festival artist Trombone Shorty.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation
The Jazz & Heritage Festival is owned by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, which uses the proceeds from the festival for year-round community development programs in the areas of education, economic development, and culture. The Foundation also owns the broadcast license of radio station WWOZ. The festival is produced by Festival Productions, Inc. - New Orleans, as a contract service to the Foundation. Since 2006, the festival's main sponsor has been the Royal Dutch Shell (the oil company), and the festival's full name is now "The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell." Several of the stage names also reflect sponsors like the Acura Stage, the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage, the AT&T/ wwoz Jazz Tent, the AIG, Gospel Tent.
The mission statement of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Inc. is: "The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation Inc. promotes, preserves, perpetuates and encourages the music, culture and heritage of communities in Louisiana through festivals, programs and other cultural, educational, civic, and economic activities." The foundation's core values include cultural and social consciousness, service, education, and accountability and general responsibility. Strategic priorities include to strengthen the organization's governance, heighten the impact of all programs, increase efficiency and accountability, to diversify the funding base, to clearly communicate the image and identity of the foundation, to strengthen relations with constituent communities, and to work towards ensuring the foundation's stability in the future.
The Board of Directors for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Inc. is made up of four parts: the Voting Board (30 community members), the Executive Board (President, Vice-President, Secretary, etc.), the Advisory Council (20 non-voting members), and the Past Presidents Senate (15 members). In addition, the Board is split into various committees. Board members serve three year terms, though there is no limit placed on the number of terms. Elections are held annually. Advisory Council members may only serve for two consecutive three year terms, however. Governance does not change much from year to year. Board members are not officially compensated, but they are given perks such as dozens of free tickets.
The foundation also owns multiple assets, including: the Jazz and Heritage Gallery, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Jazz and Heritage Radio WWOZ 90.7FM, the Jazz and Heritage Foundation Archive, the Jazz and Heritage Center, and the Jazz and Heritage Gala. Their educational programs include The Don Jamison Heritage School of Music, the Tom Dent Congo Lecture Series, and School Day at the Fest. Economic development for the foundation comes in the forms of community partnership grants (over $250,000 awarded in 2007), Raisin' the Roof (a program that assists southern-Louisiana musicians with home-buying costs), The Jazz and Heritage Music and Media Market, and the Jazz and Heritage Music Exchange. For cultural purposes, the foundation holds the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival, Fiesta Latina, the Congo Square Rhythms Festival, the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, Gospel is Alive!, Jazz Journey, the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival, and many others.
SInce 1979, the nonprofit arm of the organization has given over $1 million in grants to local schools, artists, and musicians.
The Effect of Hurricane Katrina
The first festival following Hurricane Katrina was, according to writer Lawrence Powell, " a minor miracle just for happening." 80% of the city had been flooded, including the Jazz Fest venue. The 2006 Festival was a somber one, and catered mostly to the locals in an attempt to help them to heal.
The 2007 Festival, however, saw an audience of over 350,000 people, approximately 50,000 more attendees than in 2006. There were more famous headliners, including Ludacris, Brad Paisley, Norah Jones, and Rod Stewart, more marketing, more stages, and a cheerful atmosphere.
The hurricane has not had an effect on the optimistic or celebratory spirit of the city. As Phil Gallo wrote, "Post-Katrina and post-oil disaster, New Orleans may just be the festival capital of the world."
Hurricane Katrina did, of course, have a devastating financial and social impact on the city. Many evacuees never returned after the storm, and the majority of those that stayed or chose to return were, and still are, in dire financial straits. There have been complaints about ticket accessibility for New Orleans residents post-Katrina; many citizens could barely afford admission before the hurricane wreaked havoc on the city and, now, a large majority of audience members are from out of town. There are fewer New Orleans audience members than ever before. Producers have tried to combat rising prices but, in order to be able to afford booking local talent, big-name acts need to be hired, so ticket prices rise.
For more information on tickets, see below.
The festival has featured an extremely wide variety of musicians and performers every year since its founding, ranging from little known Louisiana based artists to major international pop stars. Many well known New Orleans musicians have played annually for long stretches over the history of the festival such as The Neville Brothers, Dr John, Ellis Marsalis, The Radiators and many more.
The performance lineup is announced in the month of December each year, and a more complete schedule known as "the grids" is released in early April. Tickets can be purchased online or from the New Orleans Arena Box Office. Ticket prices have increased dramatically since a rainy 2004 Festival; in 1997, tickets were $12 and, by 2007, they cost $45 at the gate or $35 in advance. In 2014, they cost $55 in advance and $70 at the gate. There are also kids' tickets (ages 2–10) available for $5. In addition, there are various VIP packages available.
Applications to perform (from the general public) are limited to bands from Louisiana, so as to promote and preserve local culture.
Stages and tents
There are 12 music stages and tents of various sizes, as well as two food stages, set up at the Festival. The following are the stages for 2012, and they are listed roughly in the order of capacity.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival official site
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation official site
Official live recordings from the New Orleans Jazz Festival
Profile of festival by Ellen Mallernee
Down and dirty guide of the festival by Peter Delevett
Comprehensive Festival Info by Festival Archive
Other performers at this event:
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival