Jazz Fest 2017

First-timer's Guide to New Orleans Jazz Fest: Good times roll with great music, food and people-watching

Good times roll at New Orleans Jazz Fest; music, food, people watching

Jazz Fest in New Orleans crowd
New Orleans Jazz Fest draws large crowds. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau
Jazz Fest in New Orleans food court
The food list is as impressive as the music lineup at Jazz Feast, featuring Creole/Cajun servings of jambalaya, boiled crawfish, shrimp and grits, red beans and rice, and more. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau
Jazz Fest in New Orleans crawfish mac and cheese
Crawfish Monica consists of a bowl of totini pasta with bits of crawfish and enough cream and butter to clog even the most healthy of arteries. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau
Jazz Fest in New Orleans people dancing
Dancing is also a favorite pasttime at Jazz Fest. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau
Jazz Fest in New Orleans soft shell crab sandwich
Save room for a fried soft shell crab sandwich. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau
Jazz Fest in New Orleans entrance
Jazz Fest is a New Orleans tradition. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau
Jazz Fest in New Orleans crowd
Jazz Fest in New Orleans food court
Jazz Fest in New Orleans crawfish mac and cheese
Jazz Fest in New Orleans people dancing
Jazz Fest in New Orleans soft shell crab sandwich
Jazz Fest in New Orleans entrance

Like to hear great live music, sample delicious Cajun/Creole delicacies, and enjoy some epic people watching? Then you need to get to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

I have heard about this festival for years, but can honestly say I had no idea how enormous it was. This year’s festival, commonly called Jazz Fest, features Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Maroon 5, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Harry Connick Jr., Snoop Dog and many more top acts over two weekends; it continues through May 7 (click here to see the complete list of entertainers).

So how does Jazz Fest pack so many acts together? They have three very large stages (Acura Stage, Gentilly Stage and Congo Square Stage) on the grounds of the massive Fair Grounds Race Course with bands performing at the same time. The day I attended I had to choose between Maroon 5, Alabama Shakes and Usher. There are also eight other acts on smaller stages, including the Jazz Tent, the Gospel Tent and the marvelous Blues Tent where you can hear a wide variety of interpretations of this truly Americana genre of music.

The festival is so crammed with music that Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine quipped, “We’ll have to reconfigure our set so we’re not doing the acoustic part while the Blues Tent is shredding (as Jonny Lang was performing). It’s literally making my brain hurt.” 

You would think Jazz Fest is all about the music, but there is a lot more to take in. The food list is as impressive as the music lineup, with  Creole/Cajun servings of jambalaya, po-boys, muffuletta sandwiches, boiled crawfish, shrimp and grits, red beans and rice, boudin balls, and many other tasty treats.

You can’t go wrong with any of it, but locals head straight for the Crawfish Bread stand. This decadent collection of warm bread with melted cheese and crawfish will have you asking, "Where have you been all of my life?"  Get there early and eat one as soon as you can, then head over later in the day to chow down on a bowl of Crawfish Monica — a bowl of totini pasta with bits of crawfish and enough cream and butter to clog even the most healthy of arteries.

Looking for something sweet? You’ll find plenty of Sno-Ball stands, praline stuffed beignets, and the infamous Roman Chewing Candy Company. Another pleasant surprise is the reasonable prices for food and drink. Water is $3 a bottle, the Crawfish Bread is $7 and beers (you knew they had to have alcohol there right?) start around $8.

After spending nine hours of listening to awesome live music, pounding down great food and hanging around with festival attendees that are as varied as the music and food, all I can say is “Laissez le bon Temps Rouler!"