A Brief History of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, known locally as Jazz Fest, is an awesome annual celebration of the culture and music of Louisiana. It places a special emphasis on artists who are New Orleans locals. This festival revolves around a lot of musical styles — blues, Cajun, zydeco, folk, rock, rap, bluegrass, country, and, of course, jazz. As long as the artist is from Louisiana, their music could be featured at Jazz Fest. Whether an artist is contemporary and avant-garde, or classic and traditional, they will have a spot at this awesome festival.

Every year, the Fest is held during the day on the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. It takes place at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a horse track in Mid-City New Orleans. Crowds number into the hundreds of thousands, as this is one of the most popular music festivals in the entire state. So, how did the festival come about? It all started in 1970, when the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association wanted to drum up some enthusiasm for coming to The Big Easy. They contracted the idea of a music festival to George Wein and Festival Productions, Inc. He and his company had successfully produced the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival in the past.

Wein took the job, and began assembling a team of advisors. His team included some big names such as jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis. However, it was two people in particular who made the Jazz Fest a reality nearly 50 years ago. Their names were Allison Miner and Quint Davis, and they worked pro-bono on the festival. At first, Miner and Davis (who knew a lot about jazz) hit up the black clubs rather than tourist hotspots such as Bourbon Street. They made this decision because all of the new live music was being produced at the clubs. Their very first recruit, however, was Snooks Eaglin. He was a street singer at first, but performed at every Jazz Fest since he was recruited.

The duo managed to put together a solid team of people, and everything went smoothly in the festival. It continued to grow year after year, and they never hit a major speedbump until Miner’s death in 1995. To honor this founding member of Jazz Fest, they renamed one of the stages in her memory. A few years later, Jazz Fest gained one of the biggest corporate sponsors they had ever had — AEG, a group which owns a lot of sports teams and venues. They became a co-producer and investor in 2004. This is an incredible thing to see at Jazz Fest, because it is so different from the first year.

In 1970, only $3 was charged for admission, and the musicians stayed at Allison Miner and Quint Davis’ personal homes. They also had only four stages, and a lot of them didn’t even have microphones. The Festival has come so far since these early and rough beginnings. Of course, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is not going anywhere anytime soon. It has been named Festival of the Year four times by Pollstar, and has received praise from other magazines like The Wall Street Journal. The festival’s recognition is well-deserved, however.

The 2018 lineup for Jazz Fest is looking pretty awesome. Aerosmith, Sherly Crow, Jack White, Jimmy Buffet, Sting, and Beck have already been booked for the festival, which will occur on April 27th-29th and May 3rd-6th, respectively. Admission will be fair, priced at $65 per weekend for advance tickets (or $130 for both weekends) and $80 at the gate (or $160 total if you attend twice). This Festival is definitely worth checking out if you are going to be in New Orleans around these times.

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