Saturday, May 25, 2024

New Orleans Jazz Fest Insider Tips For A Safe and Fun Experience

The warm weather and sunnier days mean that Fest season is finally here. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is about to be in full swing for its first weekend starting this Thursday. The cultural and musical gathering features music on multiple stages, local and national food, craftspeople and more. This year is special, as it will be the longest and largest Jazz Fest yet.

The 2024 Fest will be held at the Fair Grounds Race Course, just 10 minutes from the French Quarter. Festivities will start on Weekend One Thursday, April 25 – Sunday, April 28 and Weekend Two Thursday, May 2 – Sunday, May 5. This year, the headliner is the world-famous rock band, The Rolling Stones, who will perform on May 2. 

Festivals can be hectic, especially if you’re traveling from out of town. For locals and travelers alike, we’ve compiled some of the need-to-know information to make your festival experience smooth sailing and enjoyable.

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

How and where can I buy tickets?

Tickets are available online and at the gate upon arrival. It’s best to buy tickets ahead of time to ensure you snag the type of tickets you are looking for and to get an early bird discount. Tickets include a variety of options like one-day, weekend passes, VIP packages, and travel packages. 

General admission tickets for Weekend Two are already sold out, but tickets are still available for Weekend One. On Thursday, April 25 a special ticket option for locals, called “Locals Thursday” is available. Tickets will cost just $50 for Louisiana residents and can only be purchased on the 25th at the gate.

Where is the best place to stay nearby?

There are several boutique hotels and more commercial hotels in the area near the Fairgrounds. These hotels can guarantee parking and other amenities that may not be guaranteed elsewhere. Locals tend to argue against staying at AirBnB’s due to their negative effect on the surrounding community. 

Make sure to book a reservation in advance. Some surrounding hotels begin taking reservations for Jazz Fest a year early. Expedia has launched a Jazz Fest Travel Hub where visitors can find city guides, travel resources, and special offers. The official hotel of Jazz Fest is the Sheraton New Orleans, just a 20-minute drive away.

New Orleans Jazz Fest Insider Tips For A Safe and Fun Experience
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

What form of transportation should I take?

Traffic can be pretty backed up due to the festival, so it is probably best to take public transportation or ride a bike around the city. There is a special designated spot outside festival grounds for bike parking, but the spots fill up fast, so make sure you start pedaling early. The local RTA buses offer guests a $9 three-day bus pass, which is super convenient to cover your transportation for the whole weekend.

Should I Arrive Early?

There are long lines when doors open at Jazz Fest especially on days with the biggest headliners on Weekend Two so make sure to arrive early to get the best spots to see your favorite artists on the massive lineup.

Should I bring cash?

The Jazz Fest went cashless as of 2023, and will continue to do so this year. This means that all vendors will accept only cards as payment. This being said, it’s probably a good idea to still have some cash on you in case you need it. There will also be cash exchange booths so you can load up your cash onto a prepaid card to use on festival grounds. 

New Orleans Jazz Fest Insider Tips For A Safe and Fun Experience
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

How many stages are there? Do they only play Jazz?

The festival has many other genres of music, including Jazz. There are 15 stages and pavilions to visit this year, all with amazing line-ups. Here are the stages and the types of music you are likely to find there:

Festival Stage – Main Stage 

Gentilly Stage – Secondary Main Stage

Congo Square Stage – Afro-centric and World Music

Blues Tent – Blues Music

WWOZ Jazz Tent – Contemporary Jazz Music 

Gospel Tent presented by Morris Bart – Gospel Musicians 

Kids Tent – Children’s Music 

Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do Do Stage– Cajun and Zydeco Music 

Jazz & Heritage Stage – Mardi Gras Indians and Brass Band Performances 

Economy Hall Tent – Traditional New Orleans Jazz 

Lagniappe Stage – A potpourri of sounds and styles

AARP Rhythmpourium – A small stage with a wine bar

Cultural Exchange Pavilion – Daily performances from the New Orleans Black Masking Indians. All types of music from different cultural backgrounds. This year’s focus is the music of Colombia so expect beautiful colorful performances.

Folklife Stage – Located in the Louisiana Folklife Village, where you can see artists & musicians creating in real-time. 

Food Heritage Stage – Located in the Grandstand. Watch some of New Orleans greatest chefs. 

Make sure to check out the impromptu parades through the festival grounds. A schedule is at the bottom of the Jazz Fest cube schedule.

New Orleans Jazz Fest Insider Tips For A Safe and Fun Experience
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Who will be performing?

The line-up for this year has over 5,000 musicians, including many well-known names and other groups and artists that are up and coming or local. Some of the big names you can expect to see are: The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Chris Stapleton, Neil Young Crazy Horse, The Killers, HOZIER, Jon Batiste, Queen Latifah, Vampire Weekend, Greta Van Fleet, Bonnie Raitt, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Revivalists, The Beach Boys and thousands more!

Make sure to pick a few bands you have never heard of to checkout during the festival. Sometimes these bands can be the best of the fest and hidden treasures for your trip.

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

How will I know when each artist is performing?

Follow the cubes! The term “cube” was coined by local New Orleanians to refer to the grid-format schedule that lists all performers and where they will be held. It’s a good idea to take a look at the cubes before the festival and keep track of which ones you want to see to help keep yourself on a schedule. It may seem overwhelming with so many artists and performance spaces, but navigating the cubes will be your best bet at seeing as many artists as you can. 

We recommend printing the cubes off the JazzFest website here to keep handy during your days at the race track.

New Orleans Jazz Fest Insider Tips For A Safe and Fun Experience
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

What should I wear?

Jazz Fest can get hot, so make sure you wear something that will keep you cool. There is air-conditioning in the Grandstands and mist stations next to the Gentilly Stage and #2 food vendor area for fans to cool off. Some essential items to bring are sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen. Most areas of the festival are not covered and will leave you under the sun all day. 

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

You can also tap into your inner “Jazz Fest dad” and purchase the limited edition BayouWear clothing here (or on-site at Jazz Fest). A new print is debuted each year, and available in a variety of styles, from Hawaiian-style button-ups to dresses and more. 

New Orleans Jazz Fest Insider Tips For A Safe and Fun Experience
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Remember, Jazz Fest is a rain or shine event, so it’s in your best interest to check the forecast ahead of time to see if you need to bring a jacket or some shoes you don’t mind getting muddy. If you plan your trip in advance, you can pre-order some of the exclusive 2024 merchandise and pick it up at the festival. If lightning does break out at the festival make sure to head for shelter in the grandstand. The festival does not always evacuate but encourages attendees to take shelter.

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

We recommend no open toe shoes since the grounds are normally a racetrack and the mud can be a very messy situation. So, pack that cute outfit but make sure to have comfortable closed toe footwear.

Another cooling off hack to wet wash clothes and freeze than and bring them in baggies to the festival. These can be a lifesaver in the late afternoon hours of the festival days. You can keep them in a cooler if you are bringing one into the grounds.

New Orleans Jazz Fest Insider Tips For A Safe and Fun Experience
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

What can I bring with me?

The Jazz Fest website has an extensive list of what items you can and cannot bring onto festival grounds. Some of the items you can bring are foldable chairs, small coolers, bags and backpacks, snacks, personal sized umbrellas, and small blankets and tarps. Keep in mind that any items you do bring along with you will have to stick with you all day, so don’t bring anything too heavy or bulky. Some items you should refrain from bringing are canopies or tents, outside beverages, wagons, and outdoor games.

Also keep in mind ether is a separate list of restrictions for May 2 when the Rolling Stones are performing.

How Do I Stay Hydrated?

New Orleans in May can be hot and humid. The heat can and does sneak up on you so make sure to stay hydrated throughout the day. Bring a re-fillable water bottle to fill at the stations throughout the festival grounds. Cold water is also available for purchase at every drink vendor station.

What is the bathroom situation at JazzFest?

There are groups of porta-potties lining the racetrack. Real bathrooms are available in the grandstand. In the past few years there have been mobile air-conditioned bathroom trailers located near the Blues tent as well.

What kind of food will there be?

You definitely won’t go hungry or have trouble finding something you like to eat. You’ll find all the classic New Orleans food like Po-Boys, crawfish, cracklin, and more, along with foods from all over the world. You can find the complete food guide here so you’ll know exactly where to head once you’re hungry.

New Orleans Jazz Fest Insider Tips For A Safe and Fun Experience
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

We highly recommend the Crawfish Bread from Panarama Foods and Prejean’s Crawfish enchilladas. Prejean’s gumbo is also a local chef favorite. The Son Balls are a great way to cool down on a hot day. Local favorite Clesis’s will also be onsite for fresh crawfish this year. Crawfish Monica from Big River Foods is also a special treat.

You can even bring in aluminum foil and plastic bags to take home your favorite festival treats each day.

New Orleans Jazz Fest Insider Tips For A Safe and Fun Experience
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

I’m staying in New Orleans between the Festival weekends. What should I do?

Your options are limitless! As a traveler, you have to immerse yourself in the vibrant culture that makes New Orleans unique. You can explore the surrounding restaurants, shops, bars, and museums. Some good ideas are taking a tour around the French Quarter, visiting Mardi Gras World for a look into next year’s Mardi Gras creations, or taking a stroll through the City Park. In the days between festival weekends, the NOLA Crawfish Festival will be held beginning on Monday, April 29 to Wednesday, May 1. There’s absolutely something for everyone in the family to enjoy in New Orleans. 

New Orleans Jazz Fest Insider Tips For A Safe and Fun Experience!

Words by Emily Cigan @emily.cigan and Amy Harris @thetraveladdictig

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Amy Harris
Amy Harris is a writer and photographer who has been traveling for 20 years and flown over 2 million miles to visit over 80 countries on 6 continents. She is a freelance photographer for Invision by Associated Press, AP Images and Rex/Shutterstock. Her work can be seen in various publications and websites including: Rolling Stone, AP Images, National Geographic Books, Fodor’s Travel Guides, Forbes.com, Lonely Planet Travel Guides, JetStar magazine, and Delta Sky Magazine.

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