Got to go to New Orleans for Jazz & Heritage Festival!

New Orleans is known for many things. Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, Girls weekend, Guys weekend, Spring Break, you get the idea, right?

I was fortunate to have lived/worked in the Big Easy for two years prior to Hurricane Katrina which occurred in August 2005. I worked for Entergy, the Electric Utility based in New Orleans in the CBD or Central Business District.

The first thing you learn about when you move to the Crescent City is there is always something going on. A new restaurant opens, a Chef get’s an award, a musical artist you’ve followed for years is playing a one night show, an arts & music festival is happening, you have family or friends coming into town.

The list goes on. It’s tough to stay focused on your work and a career when there are all these other really important things going on. For someone who is passionate about good music and great food, you will be challenged from day one.

One of my friends told me she had some relatives coming in from out of State for a visist and they were going to JazzFest. I remember thinking, I like jazz but not sure I would want to spend a day at festival with all jazz music.

Then I recall a conversation I had years before with a buddy named Tom T. He was actually someone I had recruited years before and a MS grad from Clemson that I had recruited to a banking consulting company in Charlotte. We had a mutual friend named Scott C who had also gone to Clemson and I had also recruited him to the same company.

Somehow we all had ended up at this place called Cowboys in Greenville, SC. Gregg Allman and Friends were going to be there and we were all big fans. It was a great show and a lot of fun but I remember Tom telling me he had seen the Allman Brothers Band in New Orleans at JazzFest. I was putting the two together and realized it might be worth checking out.

The venue for the fesitval is the Fairgrounds and Race Track in the Northern part of the City. This is where they hold the Louisiana Derby and New Orleans Handicap. It’s owned by the same company that owns the Kentucky Derby track.

As it turned out, it was an All Start lineup. The top bill show was Santana. I had seen them before and had always been a huge fan. Next up was Bonnie Raitt, I had never seen her before but always liked her music. Then there was BB King, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Buddy Guy and the Radiators.

As you might note, none of these are jazz performers. My local friend reminder me it’s called the ‘Jazz and Heritage music festival. That term captures all the other genres of music you will hear there. She went on to tell me the ‘plan’.

The festval is the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May. It usually runs Thursday to Sunday and there are multiple stages that all have top tier performers in different music categories. You have the option of hearing Zydeco, Gospel, R&B, Blues, Jazz and straight ahead Rock and Roll. All together there are thirteen different stages. You can purchase your tickets in advance and get a deep discount for commiting to your purchase ahead of time without even knowing whose going to be there.

You also have the option of buying single day tickets for entry into all the shows or you get the deep discount when you purchase in advance for all the shows. If you are so inclined you can purchase VIP level tickets which are at a premium of course and allow you seating in a ‘preferred’ section with improved stage sight lines, private bathrooms and and private bar.

The first shows kick off at 1130a. There is something going on at all thirteen stages all day. The last show on every stage is done by 7p. The organizers want to be sure all fans have an opportunity to get back to their accommodations, freshen up and hit the venues where there are multiple top tier performers playing.

In my opinion, the best venues are Tipitina’s, House of Blues and Howling Wolf. There are dozens of music venues scattered all of the Parish of New Orleans so you’ll have lots of choices.

There are literally hundreds of restaurants in New Orleans. There are some good ones, some great ones and some exceptional ones.

If you can only get to one and you want an exceptional expereince go to Commanders Palace. If you want a really good one that is off the beaten path to the Jacque Imo’s in the lower garden district. If you want something in the quarter, I would recommend Mothers for Gumbo, ACME for oysters and Drago’s for charbroiled oysters.

Do yourself a favor and begin your New Orleans experience at Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop in the Vieux Carre’ or the Old Quarter as it was called. You’ll find yourself in the oldest continually operating bar in the US. All lighting is gas lamps or candles. It was built in the 1700’s and remains to this day as a traditional Creole house. Go there and give thought to Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre. Without their help and support President Andrew Jackson would not have been succesful during the Battle of New Orelans and the War of 1812.

Pace yourself, New Orleans is not a Sprint, it’s a Marathon.

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Jon D. Lastra

Jon D. Lastra

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