kids encyclopedia robot

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Genre Jazz
Dates April/May
Location(s) New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Years active 1970–2019, 2021–
Founded by George Wein

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, often known as Jazz Fest, is an annual celebration of the music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana. The term "Jazz Fest" also refers to the days surrounding the festival and the many shows at unaffiliated New Orleans nightclubs scheduled during the festival weekends.


Jazz Fest is held annually on the last weekend of April (Thursday–Sunday) and the first weekend of May (Thursday–Sunday) between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a horse racing track in the middle of New Orleans.

The festival is a major tourist destination with economic importance for New Orleans rivaled only by Mardi Gras; the event brings to the city $300 million annually. Early Jazz Fests featured almost exclusively local acts. As the event's popularity grew, the festival expanded to include nationally known acts.

According to the official website, "the Festival celebrates the indigenous music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana, so the music encompasses every style associated with the city and the state: blues, R&B, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk, Latin, rock, rap, country, bluegrass, and everything in between. And of course there is lots of jazz, both contemporary and traditional."

Food, crafts, and attractions

Food stands at the 2014 Jazz Fest

The Festival also features a wide variety of vendors selling local foods and crafts. The official food policy of the Festival is "no carnival food" and there are more than seventy food booths with food items including: Mango Freeze, crawfish beignets, cochon de lait sandwiches, alligator sausage po' boy (sandwich), boiled crawfish, softshell crab po'boy, Cajun jambalaya, jalapeño bread, fried green tomatoes, Oyster patties, muffulettas, red beans and rice, and crawfish Monica. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available. All food vendors go through a strict screening process to ensure quality and sanitary food handling practices. In addition, most foods are made with fresh, local ingredients and are prepared by hand. All food vendors are small, locally owned businesses. Jazz Fest rankly second to Mardi Gras in terms of local economic impact.

There are craft booths throughout the grounds. The Congo Square African Marketplace contains pieces from local, national, and international artisans and has the atmosphere of a true marketplace. Many of the artisans utilize ancient crafting techniques. In the Contemporary Crafts area, one can find handmade clothing, leather goods, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, and musical instruments. Visitors can also watch demonstrations of metal, painting, pottery, and fiber works. Lastly, the Louisiana Marketplace contains baskets, hand-colored photographs, jewelry, and landscape-themed art.

One unique aspect of the Festival is the allocation of large areas for dedication to cultural and historical practices unique to Louisiana. These dedications depict many cultures that exist in the state, including both the Cajun culture and the culture of the descendants of native Canary Islanders, the Los Isleños, as well as many others. Some of the areas include the Louisiana Folklife Village, which focuses on state art and culture, the Native American Village, and the Grandstand. Many of the folk demonstrators have been recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts for their work.

In addition, parades are held throughout the duration of the event. They include parades by the Mardi Gras Indians, marching bands, brass bands, and social aid and pleasure clubs.


JF100423 DSB Glen David Andrews with Troy Andrews
Glen David Andrews with Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews

The Festival has been held annually since 1970 when it was founded by the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association to form "the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation" that owns the Festival, except 2020 when it was cancelled on what would've been the 50th anniversary. George Wein's Festival Productions was contracted to produce the Festival. Wein produced the Newport Jazz Festival (1954) and the Newport Folk Festival (1959) in Newport, Rhode Island.

To produce the Festival in New Orleans, Wein assembled advisers, among them Ellis Marsalis, Richard B. "Dick" Allen and Harry Souchon. Allen, the curator of Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archives, recommended Archive employee Allison Miner and intern Quint Davis to Wein to help produce the first festival. Both Miner and Davis knew a great deal about jazz. They went to black clubs to hire performers rather than to Bourbon Street or other tourist destinations because it was at these clubs that live music was being produced. The first person the pair booked was Snooks Eaglin, a street singer who performed at the festival every year. After Wein established the Festival, Miner and Davis oversaw operations of Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans for many years under the supervision of Wein and the Foundation Board. Quint Davis holds the position of CEO of Festival Productions, Inc.- New Orleans, while Miner is largely credited with founding the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive. AEG Live became a co-producer of the festival in 2004.

The Archive contains recordings from musicians interviewed at the festival, as well as other documents, photographs, and ephemera related to the Festival and the Foundation's holdings, including early WWOZ 90.7-FM recordings. It contains business records, photographs, video and audio recordings, as well as other artifacts. The Archive is open to the public by appointment.

When Miner died on December 23, 1995, the interviewing stage was renamed in her memory as the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage. After Hurricane Katrina, the stage was temporarily merged with the Lagniappe Stage, which is housed in the Grandstand. However, in 2009, it was reinstated as a full stage.

Before the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, similar New Orleands jazz festivals were held in the 1960s. The first two were in 1970 and 1971 at Louis Armstrong Park, previously called Beauregard Square, in Congo Square and the adjoining New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. The 145-acre New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack began to hold Jazz Fest in 1972. The venue is located at 1751 Gentilly Boulevard, approximately ten minutes from the French Quarter. The New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack is a much larger venue than Congo Square and was chosen to hold the Festival when organizers realized how popular the event was.

Leroy Jones Quintet

The first Jazz Fest, in Congo Square, cost $3 for admission and was minimally advertised, and had only a Gospel Tent and four open stages, many of which had no microphones. Musicians were housed in Davis' and Miner's homes; there was no money for hotels. The festivities started on Wednesday night with the Pete Fountain and Clyde Kerr orchestras playing on a midnight steamboat ride.

The first Jazz Fest lineup included Mahalia Jackson (who was not booked, but simply heard about the Festival and showed up to sing), the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Duke Ellington, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Clifton Chenier, Fats Domino, and The Meters This first lineup received an audience of 350 people, but the numbers grew every year, especially after the introduction of a limited edition silkscreen poster series in 1975. By the end of the 1980s, attendance peaked at 300,000. In 2001, when Louis Armstrong's centennial was celebrated, 650,000 people attended. The poster series has been very popular with collectors. The first poster was designed by Sharon Dinkins and Thorn Grafton. Posters feature a performer or the overall theme of the Festival, and all posters are commissioned by the Festival. In 1998, the Festival added the Congo Square poster series. Artists such as George Dureau, James Michalopoulos, George Rodrigue, Douglas Bourgeois, Duke Jupiter, John Scott, and Bill Hemmerling have been designers of the official festival poster. Congo Square posters have been created by Aziz Diagne, Elizabeth Catlett, Bill Pajaud, and Terrance Osborne. Osborne designed the poster for 2012 (as well as the 2007 and 2010 posters), which featured Trombone Shorty.

2020 edition

It was announced on 16 April 2020 that the 2020 edition would be cancelled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; the 51st is deferred to 2021.

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation

Jazz and Heritage Stage 2014
Jazz and Heritage Stage at the 2014 Jazz Fest

The Jazz & Heritage Festival is owned by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, which uses the proceeds from the festival for community development programs in education, economics, and culture. The Foundation also owns the broadcast license of radio station WWOZ. The festival is produced by Festival Productions, Inc. - New Orleans and AEG Live as a contract service to the Foundation. Since 2006, the festival's main sponsor has been the Royal Dutch Shell, and the festival's full name is "The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell". Several of the stage names reflect sponsors, such as the Acura Stage, the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage, the AT&T/ wwoz Jazz Tent, the AIG, Gospel Tent.

The Board of Directors for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Inc. is made up of four parts: the Voting Board (30 community members), the Executive Board (President, Vice-President, Secretary, etc.), the Advisory Council (20 non-voting members), and the Past Presidents Senate (15 members). In addition, the Board is split into various committees. Board members serve three year terms, though there is no limit placed on the number of terms. Elections are held annually. Advisory Council members may only serve for two consecutive three year terms, however. Governance does not change much from year to year. Board members are not officially compensated, but they are given perks such as dozens of free tickets.

Eric Lindell and Anson Funderburgh
Eric Lindell and Anson Funderburgh perform in the Blues Tent at the 2014 New Orleans Jazz Fest

The foundation also owns multiple assets, including: the Jazz and Heritage Gallery, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Jazz and Heritage Radio WWOZ 90.7FM, the Jazz and Heritage Foundation Archive, the Jazz and Heritage Center, and the Jazz and Heritage Gala. Their educational programs include The Don Jamison Heritage School of Music, the Tom Dent Congo Lecture Series, and School Day at the Fest. Economic development for the foundation comes in the forms of community partnership grants (over $250,000 awarded in 2007), Raisin' the Roof (a program that assists southern-Louisiana musicians with home-buying costs), The Jazz and Heritage Music and Media Market, and the Jazz and Heritage Music Exchange. For cultural purposes, the foundation holds the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival, Fiesta Latina, the Congo Square Rhythms Festival, the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, Gospel is Alive!, Jazz Journey, the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival, and many others.

SInce 1979, the nonprofit arm of the organization has given over $1 million in grants to local schools, artists, and musicians.


The festival has featured a variety of musicians and performers every year since its founding, ranging from Louisiana musicians to international pop stars. Many popular New Orleans musicians have played annually for long stretches over the history of the festival such as the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Ellis Marsalis, and The Radiators.

Applications to perform (from the general public) are limited to bands from Louisiana to promote and preserve local culture.

Stages and tents

Gwen Stefani performs at NOLA Jazz Fest 2015
No Doubt perform at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on May 1, 2015

There are 12 music stages and tents of various sizes, as well as two food stages, set up at the Festival. The following are the stages for 2015, and they are listed roughly in the order of capacity.

Stages/tents Description
1 Acura Stage
(formerly WWL/Ray-Ban stage)
Primary main stage
2 Gentilly Stage Secondary main stage
3 Congo Square Stage Afro-centric and world music
4 Jazz Tent Contemporary jazz
5 Blues Tent Blues
6 Gospel Tent Gospel groups and singers
7 Fais Do-Do Stage Cajun and zydeco
8 Economy Hall Tent Traditional New Orleans jazz
9 Jazz & Heritage Stage New Orleans brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians
10 Lagniappe Stage A potpourri of sound and style
11 Allison Miner Music Heritage Information, interviews, panel discussions
12 Kids Tent Children's music and performances
13 Food Heritage Stage Local chefs demonstrate
14 Cajun Cabin Demonstrations of Cajun cooking

Images for kids