New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Blog

Welcome to our Blog!

Click to view the stills galleryWe created this site to let as many people as possible know that New Orleans is still a vital contributor to American culture – and it’s on vibrant display during the Jazz & Heritage Festival, now in its 37th year.  This is the second festival post-Katrina, and lots of musicians are still just now getting back to their New Orleans homes.
Much has changed over those 37 years, including, in 2006, the first year after Katrina, the addition of a major corporate sponsor, Shell Oil.  Corporate entities have sponsored many of the various stages at the Festival for years, but Shell’s sponsorship brought some grumbling – many people blame oil companies for destroying the wetlands that formerly offered New Orleans some protection from hurricanes. 
The Festival is the second-biggest tourist attraction – and revenue-generator—after Mardi Gras, drawing several hundred thousand people to the city over essentially two weekends.  In the past it has been held the last Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of April and the first weekend of May, but post-Katrina, the festival has been scaled back to 3 days of each weekend. 
The Festival is held on the Fair Grounds Race Course, a thoroughbred race track in the mid-city neighborhood that is operational the rest of the year.  During Jazzfest, the infield is populated with 5 stages; there’s also a small stage in the paddock area, and 5 “tents” -- essentially super-sized huts with concrete floors and folding chairs, that hold several hundred to several thousand people-- dot the interior and exterior of the track.  Those stages offer not just “jazz,” but an eclectic mix that’s offered up simultaneously from 11 am to 7 pm daily.  As long as your feet are willing, you can cruise from stage to stage, taking in pop, rock, hip-hop, modern jazz, traditional jazz, gospel, blues, zydeco, cajun, brass band, African, Latin, country, alt-country, bluegrass, and reggae.
In 2007, about 375,000 people attended over both weekends.  The turnout was the best it had been in years, according to the producers. 
With this blog, we bring you words, observations, impressions, sounds and pictures from the Festival and New Orleans during our 11-day stay.
Please view our slide shows for still photos and please, please, please take the time to navigate through the 360-degree panoramic photos.  You’ll need a Flash player to view them, but it’s a free download if you don’t have it already.
Thanks for visiting and enjoy.

Sunday, May 6

By Alicia

JazzFest Closed
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Closed

Ray Nagin is SO Safety Third1. Ray Nagin is so damn Safety Third.  See photo for explanation.  Our new, and best, friend Kelly, managed to slap a Safety Third bumper sticker (see for a partial explanation of what it’s all about -- it’s an attitude, really) on the New Orleans mayor as he made his way to the stage in the Blues tent.  He was a bit surprised, as you might imagine. It would probably not be good P.R. for the mayor who couldn’t get his constituents the hell out of town during Katrina to be sporting a “Safety Third” sticker.

2.  I feel so damn good, I’ll be glad when I’ve got the blues. So singeth Jon Cleary (N.O. musician and keyboardist for Bonnie Raitt), and it was particularly apt for us Sunday, both for the festival and because we ended the day at a crawfish boil thrown by Jon and his wife at their fabulous ramshackle house in the Bywater area of town.

3.  Musicians have a special place in heaven.  Sunday started on a sad note with the passing that morning of Alvin Batiste, an N.O. jazz pioneer and clarinettist who was supposed to appear that day in a tribute with Bob French, Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr.

Saturday, May 5

By Alicia

Back In Business
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Back In Business

Saturday was notable for 2 things: the heat and the crowds.  Well, maybe 3.  Because the line-up was a dream.  Or 4, cause at least 2 of us were severely hurting from the night before.

Friday’s horrific storm cleared, but the humidity now came on full bore. As we arrived at around noon, lines snaked around and out the gate to buy tickets and to get through “security.”
Hypothetically, you’re not allowed to bring in anything except an unopened bottle of water.  In practice, the rules are openly flaunted openly and the legions of yellow-shirted security staff pretty much looks the other way. Guns, knives, flasks, even a Camelback bladder full of margaritas may make it through the gates.  But there’s never been any Altamont-esque incidents that I know of.

Friday, May 4

By Alicia

Blues Tent Under Water
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Blues Tent Under Water

No more rain.  No more rain.
Yeah, we could have done the whole Woodstock thing and danced around naked, but being over 40 sort of shamed us into keeping our clothes, if not our wits, about us.  Friday at Jazzfest was not a complete washout, but came close.  It rained a good hour or two pretty relentlessly. Starting about 1pm, all the acts on the outdoors stages were delayed.

Thursday, May 3

By Andras

Lower 9th Ward
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Lower 9th Ward

Today Alicia has taken us down to the lower 9th Ward. 

A year and a half later there's still not much life.  Visiting the area for the first time, the devastation hit me as hard as the news of the storm as it happened.  Many lots are empty, others try to hang on to the roots of the walls as the rest of the buildings are collapsing upon them.  Grass and weed has overgrown most everything along with the connecting walkways.  Many street signs are hand written planks, but most of them are still missing, although new traffic lights have been installed on a couple of corners for the drive through traffic.

Yet, from the decay and rubbish comes art.
Will life imitate its colors in the lower 9th Ward?

Wednesday, May 2

By Alicia

Street Corner Musicians
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Street Corner Musicians

Had a very slow start, visited with some pals in the Uptown area, tried to find a free music festival on Frenchmen St. that had Willie Nelson’s imprimatur and a solar-powered stage but the musicians, like us, were beat.  As of mid-way through the festival’s schedule, only 1 band had played.
So K and I actually went home and took a well-deserved nap while Andras prowled the French Quarter for photos.

Tuesday, May 1

By Alicia

St. Roch Cemetery
» Click HERE to view image interactively - St. Roch Cemetery

Release the money.  So says New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.  I was getting coffee on Tuesday morning at the C.C.’s shop on Esplanade Ave. in Mid-City on Tuesday morning and managed to find myself in line just behind the Mayor.  He ordered a decaf au lait and I ordered a decaf latte.  While we both waited for our drinks – and waiting is something you get used to in New Orleans – I told him I was from DC and asked if he had a message for me to take back.  He gagged on the bagel he had taken a bite out of, and I apologized and said I hadn’t meant to make him choke.

He laughed and then said in all seriousness that he wanted the politicians to stop holding up the federal money due to the city.  While the House has passed multiple hurricane relief bills, the Senate continues to stall.  There is evidence of rebuilding, but there are still entire neighborhoods of empty and abandoned houses.  Meanwhile, also in the news here – aside from the continuing crime wave – Louisiana State University is STILL trying to build a new $1 billion hospital to replace Charity Hospital, which stands like a mausoleum on Tulane Ave.

Sunday, April 29

By Alicia

Pete Fountain
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Pete Fountain  

Today, I determined that contrary to most New Orleanians’ general impression, their mayor has not fled the city.

There he was, tall and dapper in a white Panama hat, listening somewhat distractedly to a woman who clearly was not very happy with him.  No one else stopped to say “hi,” or “hey Mayor, great job!” or “atta boy!”  Nope.  Most people just kept right on walking past him. 

Maybe they were in a hurry to see Jill Scott, who was getting warmed up at the Congo Square stage behind him.  Or maybe to see Bonnie Raitt or Arturo Sandoval or Brad Paisley or Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & the Golden Mardi Gras Indians.  The end of a day at Jazzfest is usually pretty tough.  The end of 3 days at Jazzfest is like Parris Island and Coronado SEAL training wrapped into one.  All those bands I just mentioned were playing simultaneously.  You’ve got to be in fighting shape to be able to vault between those stages on a Sunday.

Saturday, April 28

By Alicia

Amazones : Women Drummers of Guinea
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Amazones : Women Drummers Of Guinea 

Today’s theme:  If you want my body and you think I’m sexy, come on honey let me know.  And I got that straight from the horse’s mouth -- Rod Stewart.  Rod the Bod was the closing act on Acura Saturday and he wowed the crowd with his hip-shaking prancing, supernatural shaggy hair, and well-defined package, which appeared to have been artificially enhanced by a device you might see Austin Powers use.

Rod sang some of his old Faces tunes, coaxed the crowd (well, it didn’t take much) into singing along to some stuff from the 60s and 70s (don’t ask me to remember them), the bawdy Hot Legs, and Maggie May, which appeared to be the show closer.  Then he had to go ruin it all by doing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” as the encore. 

It is appropriate for Jazzfest, though.  As the sun blazed through the pristine cloudless day, layers and inhibitions were shed.  Of course, that probably had nothing to do with the Southern Comfort strawberry-lime dacquiri slushees, the buckets of beer, and metric tons of marijuana, ecstasy and mushrooms ingested by the festival go-ers.

Thursday, April 26 | Friday, April 27

By Alicia | Comments (3)

Overlooking the Congo Area
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Overlooking the Congo Satge and Square area

End of Day One. We are clearly not up to speed yet, because, as i write this, both Kay and Andras are passed out in their respective beds.

The good news: My feet don't stink and I have not located any fire ant colonies yet. The bad news: in keeping with what appears to be hyper-inflation at Jazzfest this year, a can of MGD will set you back $4.

Jazzfest is still one of the best festival bargains around with 10 stages of continuous music from 11:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. for 6 days over 2 weekends, but at $45 a day at the gate, less-flush locals who want to catch hometown heros like Trombone Shorty are getting priced out of the market.

But I get ahead of myself. Let's start with the crack team's arrival in Gulfport, Miss. on Thursday afternoon.

Feed Yourself Right
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Daily Media Collections

Browse all the panoramas, images and sounds for each day.

» Slideshow

» Thursday, April 26 

» Friday, April 27
» Saturday, April 28
» Sunday, April 29

» Monday, April 30
» Tuesday, May 1
» Wednesday, May 2
» Thursday, May 3

» Friday, May 4
» Saturday, May 5
» Sunday, May 6

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