The Ultimate Jazz Fest Guide


The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, more commonly referred to as Jazz Fest, is an annual festival celebrating the music, art, culture and heritage of New Orleans. Over the years, it has worked its way into the hearts of locals and visitors alike. After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, Jazz Fest is slated to return from April 29 – May 8, 2022.

“The Louisiana Heritage Festival,” was originally conceived by George Wein. He envisioned a daytime fair with multiple stages featuring a variety of local music styles, Louisiana cuisine, arts and crafts and evening concerts. 

The first Jazz Fest took place from April 22-26, 1970 in Congo Square with an all-star lineup that included Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Pete Fountain, The Preservation Hall Brass Band, Mardi Gras Indians and many others. Only 350 attended the inaugural event, but that would soon change. 

Today, Wein’s original vision remains the basic premise of the festival, and Jazz Fest welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the historic Fair Grounds Race Course where it is now held. The festival is now overseen and coordinated by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation as they continue to feature local and international talents on the Jazz Fest platform. 

Now that you know a little more about what Jazz Fest is, a brief history, and the amazing impact it has on the city, I’m sure you’re wondering how to book and navigate a once-in-a-lifetime Jazz Fest experience of your own. Look no further! 

When should I book my flight + hotel for Jazz Fest?

Earlier is always better. It’s best to book your flight for Jazz Fest before the lineup is announced, but don’t fret if you’re a little late in the game. As a general rule, you’ll find better fares if you fly mid-week. And because Jazz Fest is such a huge celebration in New Orleans, even if you get in a couple of days before the weekend starts or leave in between weekends, you’ll find plenty to do around the city in between (more on that later!).

Tickets – when is the best time to buy?

Jazz Fest tickets are available for purchase on the Jazz Fest site a few months prior to the event, or at the gates on any day of the fest. You can find a variety of tickets including, single-day, general admission 3-day weekend passes, VIP packages and travel packages. We recommend purchasing tickets in advance as early bird discounts often apply. 

VIP packages are weekend-specific and are valid for all three days of the weekend purchased. Jazz Fest offers three distinct VIP opportunities to experience the event in a very special way: the Festival’s popular Big Chief VIP Experience ticket package provides special viewing access at most of the Festival’s stages; the Grand Marshal VIP Pass allows for up-close access at the three major stages; and the Krewe of Jazz Fest VIP Pass entitles patrons to special covered seating at the Acura Stage audience area.

Because there are a limited number of VIP tickets, you may want to purchase those early. They often sell out.

General admission allows access to all performances the day of use, access to the wide range of food, drink and craft vendors, fest exhibits and much more. But please note that food, drink and craft purchases are not covered in the cost of admission.

When will the Jazz Fest lineup be announced? What are Jazz Fest “cubes”?

Jazz Fest’s lineup is typically announced in mid-March each year. We post it to as soon as we have it, but you can also find it on the official Jazz Fest website, along with the daily music schedule, often in early April.

Jazz Fest cubes are grid-format schedules that let fest-goers know who will be performing on what day, time and stage over the two-weekend fest. Jazz Fest cubes are announced closer to the festival dates.

What’s the best way to get around during Jazz Fest?

Jazz Fest is held at the Fair Grounds Race Course in the Gentilly neighborhood. Because of the high traffic volume during Jazz Fest weekend, it’s recommended to utilize public transportation methods such as the RTA Buses. Just $9 can purchase a 3-day pass, which can make traveling to and from Jazz Fest a breeze. The Jackson-Esplanade Bus (91) drops off only a few blocks from the entrance. Personal or bike-shares are also suggested. While bikes are not allowed on fest grounds, there will be a reserved space for securing bikes outside, but get there early, as those spaces tend to fill up quick.  

What should I wear to Jazz Fest?

Jazz Fest is a unique festival dedicated to and reflective of the culture of the city of New Orleans. Wear something expressive, unique and fun! Do, however, keep in mind that Jazz Fest happens rain or shine! Check the forecast daily and remember that a light rain jacket or boots are never a bad idea. 

What should I bring?

While there will be ATMs throughout the fest grounds, remember to bring your own cash to avoid ATM and vendor fees for card transactions. Collapsible chairs, blankets and ground tarps are ideal for sitting down and enjoying the concerts throughout the fairgrounds. Sunscreen is also a must. Other than factory-sealed water bottles, no outside food or beverages are allowed upon entry. 

What kind of food can I find at Jazz Fest?

Daily general admission to Jazz Fest includes access to a sea of awesome, local vendors! With two areas dedicated only to food vendors, stands around the fest, a kids food section and several other special stations – there will be plenty to choose from. Sweet and savory, seafood and sandwiches and everything in between. Fest vets will swear by the Crawfish Monica, Crawfish Bread and the Mango Freeze. There’s also a number of vegan and vegetarian options throughout the fest.

All food purchases are separate from your admission, so plan to bring cash. Another pro tip is to split several things within your group so that you try even more delicious things.

You can also find beer, wine, iced tea, lemonade and more for sale in different locations throughout the festival.

How many stages are there and what can I expect at each stage?

Jazz Fest has a number of stages and tents dedicated to different genres of music and performances, fest activities and even live demonstrations. The following can be found on fest grounds:

  • The Acura Stage – Main Stage 
  • Gentilly Stage – Secondary Main Stage. 
  • The Congo Square Stage – Afro-centric and World Music
  • Blues Tent – Blues Music
  • Jazz Tent – Contemporary Jazz Music 
  • Gospel Tent – Gospel Musicians and Performers 
  • Kids Tent – Children’s Music and Performances 
  • The Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do Do Stage – Cajun & Zydeco Music 
  • Jazz & Heritage Stage – Mardi Gras Indians + Brass Band Performances  
  • Allison Miner Music Heritage – Panel Discussions, Fest Information + Live Interviews. 
  • Food Heritage Stage – Live Cooking Demonstrations
  • Cajun Cabin – Live Cajun Cooking Demonstrations 
  • Economy Hall Tent – Traditional New Orleans Jazz 
  • Lagniappe Stage – A potpourri of sound and style

Another pro-tip: the tents offer shade and misting areas, which are great ways to take a break from the sun while also enjoying world class entertainment. The tent areas also provide seating, so you can give your feet a rest (although resisting the urge to dance isn’t always as easy). 

What should I do during the week in between?

If you’re a true Jazz Fest fanatic and you bought tickets for both weekends, there’s no need to fret about the week in between because there’s plenty to see and do. Spend your week in the neighborhood exploring all that Esplanade Ridge has to offer with this specially curated itinerary. Enjoy restaurants, shops, activities and nightlife.

This article was originally published on New Orleans.

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