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Jazz Fest New Orleans - New Orleans Jazz Fest - History of the New Orleans Jazz Fest

History and Features

festival tent music throughout

One of the first things to come to mind when many people think of New Orleans, Louisiana is jazz music. From the famous Preservation Hall to the many street performers scattered throughout the French Quarter, one would be hard pressed to visit the city without hearing a jazz performer. Every year since 1970, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has celebrated the city’s relationship with jazz and has drawn thousands of jazz fans to the Big Easy. With the exception of Mardi Gras, few events are bigger tourist draws in the city than the jazz fest. New Orleans’ jazz fans count the jazz fest as a virtual Mecca of jazz music, and between 400,000 and 600,000 people have attended the festival in recent years, with 2001’s 650,000 setting the record attendance.

History of the New Orleans Jazz Fest

Although different festivals and concerts were held in New Orleans throughout the 60s, the current incarnation of the festival began in 1970, when the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association established the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation and launched the yearly festival. With a team of jazz musicians and other artists planning the event, the first festivals took place in what is now Louis Armstrong Park. From 1972 on, the New Orleans Fairgrounds and Racetrack has hosted the festival. The advertising posters for the festival have become collectible items as well. The posters each year feature well known New Orleans sites and artists at the festival.

Features and Events at the New Orleans Jazz Fest

The Jazz Fest takes place on the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May. Although the schedule was shortened after Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005, it is now restored to Thursday through Sunday on both of these weekends. There are also several other informal events throughout the city during the week between the official festival dates.

In 2009, there were 12 different stages and tents at the Jazz Fest. In addition to the primary main stage and the secondary main stage, where most of the music acts perform, several other tents featured different kinds of jazz music. The Congo Square tent, the jazz tent, the blues tent, the gospel tent, and the Economy Hall tent also have jazz musicians played throughout the day. The Jazz and Heritage stage and the Lagniappe stage featured historical jazz music. There was also a children’s tent with kids activities and two food tents, one of which featured Cajun foods and demonstrations.

Performers at the New Orleans Jazz Fest

Many jazz legends have performed at the New Orleans jazz fest. Mahalia Jackson and Duke Ellington both performed at the first festival in 1970. Other well known New Orleans musicians who have appeared at the festival include Fats Domino, the Neville Brothers, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., and many more.

A wide range of world famous performers have also played the New Orleans festival. These include Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, James Brown, Lenny Kravitz, and Gladys Knight, among many others. The 2010 schedule included Lionel Ritchie, Simon and Garfunkel, the Allman Brothers, Pearl Jam, and the Neville Brothers, along with hundreds of other artists.

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