Festival Season is Upon Us

A new stage at FQF, a milestone for Satchmo Summerfest — 2020 will be another big year for French Quarter Festivals Inc.

Illustration by Tony Healey

Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. She also writes the Wednesday Tourism Blog on BizNewOrleans.com.


French Quarter Festivals Inc. (FQFI) began 37 years ago as a nonprofit group that organized the annual French Quarter Festival (FQF), planned this year for April 16-19. And while its main role is to produce that festival, FQF is just one piece of the effort the organization makes to attain its mission — to produce events that showcase the culture and heritage of New Orleans, contribute to the economic well-being of the community and instill increased pride in the people of New Orleans.

The nonprofit actually produces three annual festivals — FQF, Satchmo SummerFest and Holidays New Orleans Style. FQFI President and CEO Emily Madero said that each of the three festivals celebrates New Orleans culture and those who create it.

“Over our 37-year history, we have remained committed to our heritage and culture bearers,” said Madero. “This year, we will raise over $500,000 to hire exclusively local talent. Our events provide a platform for rising talent to connect with our vast audience. Each year the music schedule includes dozens of debut acts. Plus, our audience can experience performances by important New Orleans musicians and living legends like Ellis Marsalis, Irma Thomas, Little Freddie King and Monk Boudreaux.”

The audience at the festivals is indeed vast. FQF alone drew 825,700 attendees in 2019. According to a study by the University of New Orleans (UNO) Hospitality Research Center, 60% of those attendees were from out of town. Madero says the hyper-local focus of the festival attracts both locals and visitors alike.

“It’s a successful formula: By hiring local musicians and providing a platform for dozens of restaurants on our culinary lineup, we generate an economic impact that stays in our community and make a massive contribution to New Orleans’ tourism industry,” Madero said. “Our estimated economic impact in 2019 was over $190 million and many of our partners in the French Quarter report that next to Mardi Gras, French Quarter Festival is their biggest weekend of the year.”

With a small staff and big goals, FQFI has turned to strategic partnerships within the New Orleans tourism and hospitality sector.

“We rely on our partners to support our production needs and to amplify our message,” said Madero. “We work closely with several hotels, especially our official hotel, the Omni Royal Orleans, to support our production needs — from hosting stages to providing space for media and housing talent and production staff. We also lean on our partners like New Orleans & Company to support our PR strategy and underwrite our winter event, Holidays New Orleans Style.”

FQFI frequently partners with local organizations for event offerings as well. The organization is collaborating with Backstreet Cultural Museum, The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans African American Museum and the New Orleans Jazz Museum on a new initiative they are piloting at FQF 2020, the Louisiana History & Culture Stage. The new stage will provide a platform for local historians and culture bearers to share their knowledge and experience.

An important milestone for FQFI this year is the 20th anniversary of Satchmo SummerFest. The annual festival, scheduled for July 31-Aug. 2, 2020, celebrates Louis Armstrong’s birthday and his lasting impact on New Orleans culture and the music of the world.

“The festival reminds us of how relevant Armstrong is today and how his legacy continues to inspire new generations of musicians,” said Madero. “To me, a highlight is the annual Satchmo Salute. What makes this parade special is that it brings together groups who normally do not parade together—Zulus, Baby Dolls and different social aid and pleasure clubs. It’s a beautiful tribute to New Orleans culture.”

Future generations of New Orleanians are supported by the organization as well. Beyond creative children’s programming at each of the three festivals, FQFI supports young musical artists and their music business education through Ernie’s Schoolhouse Stage at FQF, and a new initiative to provide apprenticeships through the Music Forward Foundation and the Trombone Shorty Foundation, where students will assist production crews and learn skills that will help them pursue industry careers.