Springtime and jazz go together like ice cream and hot fudge — the first are always awaited with eager anticipation, and the second deliver an extra dose of sweetness that’s hard to resist.
The 49th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is now underway at the Fair Grounds Race Course located near the French Quarter in The Big Easy. Kicking off today and running through May 6, the festival provides a plethora of musical talent, Louisiana food offerings and cultural happenings. It has flourished since it began in 1970, garnering enormous popularity as a premier cultural event.
Some of the powerhouse musical performers slated for this year’s festival include Aerosmith, Buddy Guy, Dianne Reeves, Jimmy Buffett, Khalid, Lena Prima, Lionel Richie, Rod Stewart, Smokey Robinson, Steve Miller Band and Sting.
Jazz Fest — as it soon became commonly called after its inception — has evolved from featuring only jazz, blues and gospel music, to hosting talent from numerous music genres that include jazz, Cajun, R&B, African, Latin and Caribbean.
Many of the event’s featured musicians are international superstars. B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Chaka Khan, Ella Fitzgerald, Eric Clapton, John Fogerty, Patti LaBelle, Robert Plant, Santana and Willie Nelson have all performed at the celebration in past years.
The festival originally was put together by jazz impresario George Wein, who set out to develop a powerful, enduring cultural celebration that represents an undeniable authenticity of Louisiana’s unique arts, customs and lifestyle, and that draws thousands to it every year.
Wein was the driving force behind Louisiana’s Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival in the 1950s, and he was hired to take charge of the design and production of the festival for New Orleans as well. A nonprofit organization, The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, was established to manage the affair.
The festival’s inaugural celebration brought some of music’s biggest names of the time, like “The Queen of Gospel” Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt and Fats Domino, to the daytime fair and its evening concert series.
The event offered multiple stages featuring an array of homegrown music styles, food vendors selling traditional Louisiana cooking, daily parades with the Mardi Gras Indians and The Olympia Brass Band, plus arts and crafts booths.
From those beginnings, The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has grown into a cultural exhibition that, in 2017, despite heavy rains, high winds and lightning throughout its two-week run, saw nearly half a million people come out to experience this phenomenal happening.