New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: The Complete Guide

An aerial view of the atmosphere at the Acura Stage during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course

Josh Brasted / Contributor / Getty Images

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With 13 stages hosting more than 500 live performances over two epic weekends, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is a joyous celebration of music and culture in true NOLA fashion — which is to say it’s going to be hot, it’s going to be delicious, and it’s guaranteed to be a riotous good time.

The festival, which takes place over two consecutive long weekends in late April and early May, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019, when from April 25 through 28 and May 2 through 5, tents and stages across the sprawling fairground site emanate an almost dizzying barrage of sounds: jazz, blues, gospel, latin, funk, hip-hop, soul, cajun, brass bands. Headlining acts criss-cross musical genres and this year include everyone from Katy Perry to Jimmy Buffett, Bonnie Raitt to Ziggy Marley, the Doobie Brothers to Alanis Morissette, K-pop sensation Boyfriend to the Dave Matthews Band. 

Word to the wise: Come hungry and with some cash on hand. Festival devotees anticipate digging into favorite dishes from beloved local food vendors (cash only!) almost as much as grooving to the day’s musical lineup. Between sets, queue up for gumbo and jambalaya, sweet and savory beignets, all variations of po’ boys and crawfish, too. You can try crawfish boil, crawfish bread and Crawfish Monica, a Jazz Fest classic that’s best described as a creamy pasta dish with a Creole twist.

And because there are few things NOLA loves more than a good parade, be on the lookout for roving merriment; there are more than 40 parades scheduled over the course of the eight festival days. Ready to boogie on down to Jazz Fest? Here’s everything else you need to know:

Purchasing New Orleans Jazz Fest Tickets 

Single-day general admission tickets, as well as all premium ticket packages, go on sale in January annually and can be purchased in advance through Ticketmaster. Although not typically the case, certain Jazz Fest days have sold out when there’s a major headliner. Otherwise, single-day general admission tickets can also be purchased at the gates for a nominally higher price, with the exception of “Locals Thursday” tickets, which are discounted general admission tickets for Louisiana residents (with valid ID) and can only be purchased on onsite.

Getting to the Fair Grounds

Jazz Fest sets up annually at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a 145-acre site located in the midst of a largely residential neighborhood a few miles from the French Quarter (about a 10- to 15-minute drive). While limited street parking is available, it’s not recommended. A better option is to book a local taxi or cab or other private transportation through your hotel, or use car services such as Uber or Lyft, which can pick up and drop off customers on the fringes of the residential neighborhood surrounding the fairgrounds. 

And indeed, one of the great traditions of Jazz Fest begins before you’ve even arrived at the gate: The residential area around the festival grounds goes all out, hosting friendly gatherings, hawking everything from ice-cold bottled water to Jell-O shots and generally partying in the streets. It feels like one big neighborhood block party to which everyone’s invited — and it certainly sets the stage for what awaits. (There is also a Jazz Fest Express shuttle that drops festival goers inside the gates.)

Festival Essentials 

Torrential downpours, stifling heat and humidity — in all but a handful of instances in its 50-year history, Jazz Fest keeps on jamming. So do as locals do and hope for the best but prepare for the worst. If there’s rain in the forecast, it’s a good idea to pack (or purchase) a pair of rain boots that can withstand any cloudbursts and navigate muddy fields, as well as a rain slicker or poncho. Likewise, sun protection is key: sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, shade parasols, and sunglasses are all festival staples, as are practical, comfortable shoes that can withstand a whole day of moving and grooving, plus some inevitable dirt and grime (we’re looking at you, Porta Potties). 

Here’s a short list of what else to consider bringing and what to leave behind: 

  • Small bags and backpacks (up to 17 inches x 12 inches x 10 inches) 
  • Soft-sided cooler bags (no larger than could fit a 12-pack, although any beverages other than unopened water bottles are not allowed) 
  • Single, collapsable chairs and/or blankets and ground tarps (6 foot by 8 foot or less) 

Check with your hotel before packing cumbersome festival gear as some properties, including the Ritz Carlton, New Orleans, are prepared to help outfit guests with essentials including chairs, coolers, rainwear, etc.

Avoid bringing hard-sided coolers and larger soft or rolling coolers or bags, outside beverages other than unopened water bottles, personal tents or shade canopies, large beach or pole-style umbrellas, and larger chairs and inflatable items.

Departing Jazz Fest

Since a large number of festival goers stay through the final headlining act, there’s always a mass exodus as the grounds close at 7 p.m., which means surging prices for car services. Instead, pony up at a nearby watering hole or restaurant for a few while the crowds dissipate. The Seahorse Saloon is a stone’s throw from festival gates; other nearby options include Pirogues, Café Degas, and Liuzza’s By the Track

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New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: The Complete Guide