A First-Timer's Guide To New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

2022 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Douglas Mason / Contributor / Getty

You’ve heard the buzz; now it’s time to feel the beat. I was first assigned to cover New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, commonly referred to as “Jazz Fest,” as a cub reporter in 1993. I've been going as a patron every year since—yes, it’s that much fun! There’s music everywhere you turn: jazz, gospel, zydeco, R&B, rock, bounce, funk, folk, you name it. It’s a party that spans over two long weekends, the last week in April and the first one in May. (The 2023 dates for Jazz Fest are April 28-May 7, 2023.)

Created in 1970 to showcase New Orleans’ unique culture, the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival starred icons like Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, and Pete Fountain, who entertained a crowd of about 350 people. Today, Jazz Fest attracts almost half a million people from all over the globe as well as world famous entertainers. This year’s headliners include Lizzo, Jon Batiste, Ed Sheeran, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Kane Brown, Leon Bridges, and more. 

There’s something for every genre and the crowds are as eclectic as the acts. You’ll find all ages, cultures, ethnicities, identities, and musical tastes represented. Anyone is welcome and just about everyone shows up. That’s because Jazz Fest is a party every time—rain or shine. But keep that in mind: Other than the tents, which can get really crowded, there is little shade from the sun and the temperatures can range from comfortably warm to sweltering, climbing into the nineties.

How To Buy Tickets for Jazz Fest

There are many ticket options: single day tickets, 3-day weekend passes, or 4-day weekend passes; VIP options are also available. There are also weekend passes and VIP options available. Purchase your tickets online now and it’ll save you time in line and money at the gate. A single day ticket is $85 if you purchase in advance and $95 at the gate. Jazz Fest hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 2023 dates are April 28-30 and May 4–7. For more information or to order tickets in advance, visit nojazzfest.com.

Where Is Jazz Fest Held?

Jazz Fest is located on the New Orleans Fairgrounds (1751 Gentilly Boulevard), a temporarily converted Thoroughbred racetrack. Around the track are various music venues comprised of outdoor stages and giant tents strategically and acoustically positioned to provide the best sound so that the performances don’t compete with one another.  

What You'll Hear at Jazz Fest

The top headliners usually perform on the outdoor stages, including the Main Stage and Gentilly Stage. The Congo Square Stage features hip-hop, contemporary R&B, and soul music. The Fais Do Do Stage is home to Cajun, zydeco, and folk music. And you’ll find brass band performances and the  Mardi Gras Indians at the Jazz and Heritage Stage.   

The tents are named for the music they promote: Gospel Tent, Blues Tent, Jazz Tent, and so on. There’s also a Kids’ Tent that features puppet shows, children’s jazz bands, and choirs. The tents also provide seating, which is a huge plus along with the shade.

What to Eat and Drink at Jazz Fest

Bring your appetite. There’s food for every palate, from Crawfish Monica and alligator sausage to fried chicken, jambalaya, and stuffed beignets. There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options, too. Around the grounds you can also find New Orleans famous Sno-balls from Cee Cee's and Metairie's, as well as glazed pecans, assorted pralines, and more. And there’s culture you won’t find anywhere else like Cajun dancing, Brass Band Second Lines, Mardi Gras Indians, and arts and crafts that make every souvenir a conversation  piece.

Jazz Fest Planning Pointers

  • Prepare for rain. It’s a wise idea to pack a poncho and boots because the racetrack dirt becomes mud in a downpour. (Don't let the rain stop you because the funniest memories can sometimes be the messiest!) 
  • Bring something to sit on. Consider packing a small blanket or collapsible chair with a strap. You will likely walk a lot, so wear comfortable shoes and pack light. Small bags and backpacks are allowed. 
  • Don’t forget the essentials. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. You want to sing (not sting!) after a day at Jazz Fest.
  • Pay attention to the maps and cubes. The maps handed out at the gate are critical to locating the stages, tents, vendors, ATMs, and medical facilities. The “cubes” chart the daily musical acts, broken down by time and stage/tent. 
  • Use the flags. If you’re meeting a group of friends amidst the sea of people, a flag is a great way to stand out and alert your friends to your location.

Bottom line: Pack light, bring an appetite for fabulous and diverse food and drink, and prepare for amazing music. And come back next year—the best  compliment is someone who returns for seconds. For more info on 2023 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest, visit nojazzfest.com

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