On the Ground: New Orleans Jazz Fest

by  Anne Roderique-Jones | Mar 3, 2017
Paul Broussard
Paul Broussard

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is a two-weekend event with live music on multiple stages, local food, and arts and crafts makers from the region, and around the world. This year's incarnation spans the last weekend of April and first weekend of May, so it's time to start planning. Here's how to navigate one of the world's most popular music festivals. 

Getting in: General admission tickets are currently on sale for the 2017 fest. One type of ticket ($70 in advance; $80 at gate) is good for one day and can be used any single day of the first weekend (so April 28, 29, or 30). Second weekend tickets are good for any one day and can be used only on the second weekend (that's May 4, 5, 6, or 7). Take a peek at the lineup to decide which individual days work best, or purchase a VIP pass to see them all. Keep in mind that Jazz Fest is more than just jazz music. You'll hear blues, R&B, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk, Latin, rock, hip-hop, country, bluegrass, and everything in between. This year's headliners include Maroon 5, Usher and The Roots, Stevie Wonder, and Snoop Dogg. 

What to bring: It's important to be comfortable and hydrated during Jazz Fest. There are few trees, and most of the viewing will be done in the hot Louisiana sunshine, so sunscreen is a must. That said, it can be rainy at Jazz Fest and a pair of waterproof shoes, boots, or sandals are ideal for dancing in the mud. Our packing list includes a soft cooler filled with sealed water, loads of sunscreen, and hats. If you'd prefer to sit, add a camp chair and tarp. (The latter will hold your spot and serve as your own personal dance floor. Just be mindful of your neighbor's space.) You can find a full list of what's allowed and prohibited here

What to eat: You should, of course, eat... everything. From fried chicken to red beans and rice, Jazz Fest is a culinary event in itself. A few must-tries are crawfish Monica, a Cajun duck po-boy, and the cochon de lait (suckling pig); each pair perfectly with a boozy daiquiri or fresh-squeezed lemonade. 

Where to stay: Keep in mind that there are plenty of great Airbnb options near the fairgrounds, but few hotels. Some properties offer specials in conjunction with festival organizers that can be found on the Jazz Fest website. In addition, our favorites, like The Ace Hotel, Henry Howard Hotel, and The Moxy New Orleans are a short taxi or leisurely bike ride away. 

How to get there: For this event, don't bother with a car. You can take unlimited rides around the city on the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s (RTA) fleet of buses and streetcars with a one-day Jazzy Pass for $3; there’s also a three-day option for $9. The Jazz Fest Express shuttle bus is the only transportation that takes you directly to the festival gate. Catch it downtown and at City Park for $20, round trip. Riding a bike can also be a fun and easy way to get to Jazz Fest. The streets are flat and there are plenty of racks for storage -- just remember to bring a lock. A final note: Remember that cab lines will be long on festival days, but Lyft and Uber will be out in force -- with surge pricing in place. 

Insider secrets: Head to Liuzza’s, a New Orleans’ institution that serves pre-fest bloody Marys and is known for throwing the best post-fest neighborhood party. Alternatively, the Seahorse Saloon is a cheap, festive bar that's ideal for waiting out the crowds (and Uber's surge pricing), post-festival. While at the fest, don't miss zydeco acts at the Fais Do Do tent, the Mardi Gras Indians at the Heritage stage, and -- our favorite -- the Gospel tent, which offers incredible sounds, plus shade. You can find flushing toilets (as opposed to portable toilets) and air-conditioning in the grandstand. While you're there taking a break, grab a dozen fresh-shucked Gulf oysters.

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