A Guide To New Orleans Jazz Fest

By Olivia Emily

5 months ago

Inside one of the US' largest festivals

Fancy partying at a music festival with a bit more heritage to it? Here we delve into New Orleans Jazz Fest, one of the US’ largest and coolest music and culture festivals – plus how to visit in 2024.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2024


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What Is New Orleans Jazz Fest?

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – aka Jazz Fest – is an annual festival celebrating the music, art, culture and heritage of New Orleans, Louisiana. In 2024, it’ll span two long weekends in spring, running from 25 April–5 May, with a star-studded line up including The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Chris Stapleton, The Killers, Hozier, Queen Latifah, Vampire Weekend, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Beach Boys and many more.


Drawing on the city’s rich history, the New Orleans Jazz Fest always spans a vast range of music genres, including jazz, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, blues, R&B, rock, funk, African, Latin, and Caribbean music. Big names of festivals past include Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, Pete Fountain and Fats Domino. As far as smaller performers are concerned, however, applications are only taken from Louisiana locals to preserve the heritage of the festival.


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But it’s not only about music: there’s also the annual Crafts lineup honouring the artisans of the ‘70s. In 2024, this includes:

  • Congo Square African Marketplace: Featuring an array of local, national and international artisans exhibiting the ancient crafting techniques, culture and spirit that helped to create the heritage New Orleans is famous for.
  • Contemporary Crafts: A series of blues, jazz and gospel music tents in Heritage Square, showcasing a range of handcrafted goods: clothing, leather goods, musical instruments, paintings, photographs, sculptures, jewellery and more.
  • Louisiana Marketplace: With a focus on the state’s very best traditional and contemporary artists, here visitors can find Louisiana inspired photographs, Creole and Acadian furniture, whimsical jewellery and other creations that evoke the state’s cultural landscape.


Elsewhere, there are four ‘villages’ celebrating New Orleans and Louisiana’s rich heritage: the Louisiana Folklife Village showcasing the state’s generations-old traditions, from Mardi Gras floats to knitted shrimp nets; the Native American Village celebrating the state’s indigenous peoples across crafts, food and dancing; The Grandstand, showcasing culture, cuisine and art in an air-conditioned environment; and the Expedia Cultural Exchange Pavilion, where festival goers and local artists can mingle with master craftsmen and performers from Haiti, Mali, Panama, Brazil, South Africa, Martinique, Belize and Cuba.


And, of course, there’s plenty of delicious street food to enjoy all the while, showcasing the region’s traditional dishes from po-boys to ice tea.


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The History

New Orleans Jazz Fest has a rich history stretching back to the last 1960s, when it was founded with the help of jazz pianist George Wein. Wein had previously organised the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island in 1954, and was asked by Olaf Lambert, manager of the Royal Orleans Hotel, as early as 1962 to bring his format to Louisiana. However, when Wein met with Mayor Victor H. Schiro, hotel executive and civic leader Seymour Weiss, and a few members of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce to discuss the proposition, they decided the South wasn’t ready for a jazz festival due to fraught racial tensions. At the time, city ordinances were still in place prohibiting interaction between Black and white musicians.

A few years later, discussions started up again, spearheaded by local businessman Durel Black, who felt New Orleans’ 250th anniversary would be a great time to launch a jazz festival. Durel brought Wein back into the fold, but then quickly pushed him back out when Durel discovered Wein’s wife Joyce was Black. Instead, Durel brought Tommy Walker onto the project, and first iteration of the New Orleans Jazz Fest took place in 1968 under the name ‘The International Jazzfest’, headlined by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

In 1969, a second festival took place with modest returns, prompting Durel to get back in touch with Wein and bring him back onto the project. Wein agreed and gave the festival a much-needed shake-up, incorporating more local collaboration and shining a light on Louisiana’s special culture and heritage.

In 1970, the first Jazz Fest as we know it took place in Congo Square (then known as Beauregard Square) in Louis Armstrong Park, attracting around 350 attendees. It has since grown into one of the US’ largest festivals. In 2001, more than 650,000 people attended the festival over the course of its seven days.


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When Is New Orleans Jazz Fest?

New Orleans Jazz Fest will run over two long weekends in 2024: Thursday 25 April until Sunday 28 April, and Thursday 2 May until Sunday 5 May.

Where Is It Held?

New Orleans Jazz Fest takes place at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots (1751 Gentilly Blvd, New Orleans, LA 70119, United States).

How To Get Tickets

Tickets start from $290 for four-day entry over the first weekend, increasing to $320 at the end of the early-bird period. Three or four day tickets are available for the second weekend, priced at $230 for three days or $465 for four days (early bird).

There are also VIP tickets available – ‘Big Chief VIP’, ‘Grand Marshal VIP’ and ‘Crewe of Jazz Fest’ – providing access to the likes of raised and covered viewing areas, air-conditioned hospitality lounges, private beverage stands and restrooms, and on-site parking.

Book at nojazzfest.com