Surviving Jazz Fest
Some local ideas for getting the most out of your experience
Jazz Fest is a behemoth. Every year it grows in attendance and stature as a signature event for New Orleans. Second only to Mardi Gras in event-based tourism, it is responsible for millions of dollars in economic impact.
So how does a visitor approach this festival? Here are a few suggestions to take with a grain of racetrack sand:
1. Go with the flow.
Much like a making a birth plan, crafting a schedule for Jazz Fest is moot. Absolutely check out the cubes and get a sense for which performances are your top choices, but leave plenty of room for navigating lines, crowds and stumbling upon some musician you’ve never heard but somehow draws you to their stage. That’s where the real magic of Jazz Fest happens.
2. Bring cash.
Yes, there are ATMs out at the Fairgrounds. But they will have long lines, charge you fees up the wazoo and potentially be broken or out of money. Find a local branch of your home bank, or visit any bank in advance for smaller fees, and take out your cash before you get to the festival. Most food is around $8, most beer is $6 and water is $3. Do the math. Souvenirs and many arts/crafts can be purchased with credit cards, but cash is king at Jazz Fest.
3. Plan your transportation.
Traffic will be bad, parking is expensive, cab lines will be long, public transportation will be packed and you might not be sober enough to find your way home on a bicycle after the last set is over. Reveler, know thyself. Explore your options and plan your arrival and getaway in advance.
4. Come hungry.
You might think eating a leisurely brunch before you head out to the Fairgrounds is a great idea, but you have the rest of your non-Fest days for that. Plan to eat both lunch and dinner at the festival if you can. Especially if you are attending only a day or two of Jazz Fest, there are too many food vendors out there to limit yourself by foolishly eating before you get there. Consider sharing with a friend so you can sample as much as possible. Can’t miss: Cochon de Lait Po Boy, Crawfish Bread, Crawfish Monica, Creamy Shrimp Macque Choux, Jama-Jama, Mango Freeze, Praline Stuffed Beignet, Seaweed & Cucumber Salad, and Ya Ka Mein (also available in vegetarian option). You’re going to want to drink at least one Rosemint Herbal Iced Tea as well, so buy the big one.
5. Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunblock (and bring the latter with you to reapply).
It may be snowing in Vermont but it’s basically summer in New Orleans. The sun is relentless (when it isn’t pouring rain). Outside of some of the performance tents, there’s very little shade to be had and you don’t want to spend the next few days nursing a sunburn. An ounce of prevention…
6. Speaking of ounces, stay hydrated.
Yes, yes, we know… let the good times roll. But something New Orleanians excel at is balancing our alcohol with hydrating beverages. The festival allows you to bring in a personal, factory-sealed water bottle. Do it. You can refill it at fountains at the Grandstand if you are trying to save your money for beer. Know your limits and find the zone of just inebriated enough to dance but well shy of falling over and hurting yourself or others. Every time I am leaving the Fairgrounds, I see at least one person who I feel like I should help get to the first aid tent. Please don’t make me worry about you.
7. Don’t do anything illegal.
Really. Just don’t.