This year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicked off a two-week run Friday, filling the air with the sounds of R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, Zydeco, pop, blues, country, rap, gospel — and, of course, jazz.
When the gates opened at 11 a.m., music fans poured into the Fair Grounds Racecourse as they staked out 14 stages or tents, laying out lots of blankets or tarps and setting up folding chairs, to claim spots where their favorite artists would perform.
And some were dancing, especially in front of the festival’s Fais Do-do stage, where Zydeco was playing, played by Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie.
Seattle retiree Joe Halsey said he and his wife have spent the last four months in New Orleans. A music festival veteran, Hulsey said Jazz Fest is his favorite.
“There is no comparison,” he said. “It’s just one of the gems I love about New Orleans. It’s got a whole vibe.
“You can’t beat music, food, music,” he said with a smile.
Food was available from dozens of booths staffed by Louisiana restaurants. There were a variety of takes on traditional Louisiana fare — numerous seafood or po’boy sandwiches featuring crawfish, sausage, pork or alligator. And there were other dishes, such as Ajun Cajun pan-fried noodles.
Friday’s music lineup included scheduled performances by Lizzo; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss; Big Freedia; Tanks and Bangas; Wu-Tang Clan Soul Rebels; Nicholas Peyton; Mavis Staples; Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers; Charlie Musselwhite; and Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience.
It was Lizzo who attracted Kalindi Cordero of Dallas and her best friend, Lana Zaring of Atlanta, to the festival.
“This city is very special and when I heard that Lizzo was coming here, I started tracking down the lineup and the tickets and the hotels and everything,” Cordero said. “It’s the diversity and representation of the city that shines through this festival.”
Lizzo didn’t disappoint fans as he roared through a host of his hits, including “About Damn Time” and “Grulls.”
“I’ve been on tour but it’s nothing like being at Jazz Fest,” she told the crowd that stretched from the front of the stage to the back of the track.
Jennifer Siegel, of New Orleans, said she’s a big fan of the singer, who advocates for empowerment, self-love and body positivity.
“I absolutely love him,” Siegel said. “I love her energy. I love her attitude. You can’t listen to her music and not feel good about yourself.”
Before Lizzo and Tank and The Bangas, Big Freedia’s bounce/rap show was set to take the festival’s main stage. “I love that I have the opportunity to perform my art in front of a large audience and have a lot of room to talk about myself. We’re here to entertain and we’ll open it up,” she said.
Freedia, known for her collaborations with Drake on “Nice For What” and Beyoncé on “Break My Soul,” said she has no plans to join Lizzo for the closing performance, even though the two duet for Freedia’s 2018 hit “Karaoke.”
“I support him either way,” she said.
Freedia dropped new music on Friday – “$100 Bill” – a collaboration with R&B singer and songwriter Ciara.
This year’s festival is also casting the spotlight on Puerto Rico with performances on Friday by two artists from the U.S. territory: Tambuye and Grammy-nominated Latin dance band Plena Libre.
“There’s a whole vibe and people should come out and feel it. I’m excited about what’s going to happen,” said festival producer Quint Davis.
He said, ‘Many people have come to us. “Lizzo, a phenomenal talent on Friday, and Ed Sheeran and Jamin Sullivan on Saturday and Jill Scott on Sunday. And that’s just the first weekend. We’ve also got her coming next week with Dead & Company, Ken Brown and Jon Batiste. Everyone wants to play the festival and Everything came together to make that happen.
The crowd was helped by sunshine, a temperature of 80 degrees (26°C) and a cool breeze. Davis said a good opening day forecast helped ticket sales. However, spotty rain may curtail the program on Saturday and Sunday.
New Orleans & Company spokeswoman Kelly Schulz said hotel occupancy for the city’s downtown corridor was above 2022 Jazz Fest numbers — the first years since the COVID-19-related cancellations in 2020 and 2021 — but not as good as those. 2019
“We are at 83% occupancy for Saturday. In 2022, that was 78% and in 2019, pre-Covid, it was 92%,” she said.
Schulz said it’s just a snapshot of how well the city’s tourism industry has weathered the Covid-19-forced shutdown: “The numbers we saw for Jazz Fest are just another example of people willing to travel again and experience face-to-face. Face-to-face connections again.”
This year’s festival is going cashless for the first time in its 52-year run. The festival will provide booths that will exchange cash for prepaid cards. All major credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards as well as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay were being accepted for tickets, food, merchandise and more.
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