With the official lineup announcement of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (also known as Jazz Fest) just around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to piece together ten interesting facts about the historic event. Jazz Fest is slated to take place from April 23th – May 3rd at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a horse racing track located in historic Mid-City. With the festival expecting over 400,000 attendees this year and Jazz Fest celebrating its 50th consecutive year, there’s obviously something uniquely magical about this particular celebration of music and culture. Interestingly enough, Jazz Fest ends each night at 7 PM, so it’s also well known for the food and music events that happen after hours at unaffiliated venues throughout the city. We’ve announced a series of night-time concerts during Jazz Fest featuring Billy Strings, Marucs King Band, Tab Benoit, Dead Feat, Samantha Fish, The Wood Brothers, Allman Betts Band, Melvin Seals & JGB, Marco Benevento, Voodoo Dead and many more. Complete information with ticket links for our Nolafunk Series During Jazz Fest can be found here. In the meantime, enjoy these ten interesting facts about the festival (in no particular order).
10. Jazz Fest is produced by the same promotion company that founded the Newport Folk Festival.
When Jazz Fest was founded in 1970 by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, George Wein’s Festival Productions, Inc. was contracted to produce the festival. Wein’s promotion agency was well-known at that time for founding the Newport Jazz Festival (1954) and the Newport Folk Festival (1959).
9. Jazz Fest brings an estimated $300 million to the city of New Orleans each year.
Jazz Fest is not a camping festival, and with over 400,000 attendees each year, this reported estimate is a conservative number. To put this into perspective, Bonnaroo in 2010 reported profits of $12 million dollars.
8. Jazz Fest enforces a strict “no carnival food” policy with its independent vendors.
Festival Productions, Inc. makes conscious efforts each year to ensure that Jazz Fest honors other parts of New Orlean’s historic culture outside of music. With this policy, it’s 70+ food vendors prepare dozens of Louisiana-inspired culinary items including Mango Freezes, crawfish beignets, cochon de lait sandwiches, alligator sausage po’ boy, boiled crawfish, softshell crab po’boy, Cajun jambalaya, jalapeño bread, fried green tomatoes, Oyster patties, muffulettas, red beans and rice, and crawfish Monica.
7. Tulane University helped organize and launch the first Jazz Fest.
When George Wein was contracted to produce the first Jazz Fest, he assembled a team of artistic advisers and seasoned promoters to help him complete the task. The curator of Tulane University’s Hogan Jazz Archives recommended two of his employees to assemble the first lineup, who were in turn hired by Festival Productions, Inc.
6. Jazz Fest maintains a stage solely used for interviews.
Named the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, this unique addition to the festival map is dedicated to interviewing artists and NOLA cultural icons throughout the festival. Last year’s interviewed artists included Anders Osborne, members of Snarky Puppy, Jon Cleary, and many others.
5. Ironically, Jazz Fest’s main corporate sponsor is an oil company.
Yep, you read that correctly, Royal Dutch Shell is the primary corporate sponsor of Jazz Fest. Shell even announced in 2014 that it would continue to be the presenting sponsor of the event through 2019 when the festival celebrates its 50th anniversary. Oil spills aside, their endorsement is a factor that allows Jazz Fest to maintain incredibly fair daily rates ($65 / day advanced, $75 at the gates).
4. The price of admission for the first Jazz Fest was $3.
Originally held at Congo Square in New Orleans, the first Jazz Fest was incredibly low key and incredibly cheap. The four stages allegedly did not have microphones, and traveling musicians were housed at the the festival promoters’ personal residences. Only 350 people attended, despite a pretty stacked lineup including Duke Ellington, The Preservation Hall Band, and The Meters. Tickets are still very cheap, but a lot has changed with regards to scale, artists, and production.
3. Jazz Fest’s all-time attendance record was a remarkable 650,000 people.
That whopping number is 250,000 greater than Woodstock’s estimated attendance. In 2001 when Jazz Fest promoted a special theme to celebrate the centennial of Louis Armstrong, hoards of music enthusiasts from all over the globe flooded the city of New Orleans, allowing the festival to sell a remarkable 650,000 tickets. The lineup that year included the likes of Dr. John, Dave Matthews Band, and Widespread Panic.
2. Jazz Fest has won Pollstar’s “Music Festival of the Year” four different times.
Pollstar celebrated its award ceremony’s 27th anniversary in 2016, which means Jazz Fest has won this coveted accolade 15% of the time. Only the Newport Music Festival (which is run by the same promotion agency) and Coachella have won this award on more occasions. In recent years, Pollstar has separated the award by creating “Major Music Festival of the Year” and “Music Festival of the Year.” In 2016, Coachella won “Major Music Festival of the Year” and Newport won “Music Festival of the Year.”
1. Applications to perform at Jazz Fest are limited to bands from Louisiana.
Similar to Jazz Fest’s strictly enforced “no carnival food” code, this application policy has been implemented since the festival’s inception to promote and honor the indigenous culture of Louisiana. National acts receive special invitations throughout the summer and fall to perform at the festival. With the rumor mill spinning, I’ve read about leaks suggesting the John Mayer Trio and the Trey Anastasio band will be on the 2017 lineup.