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New Orleans Jazz Festival

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History of New Orleans JazzFest:

JazzFest began in 1970 and was intended to promote New Orleans, the city that has given more to American music than any other. The first year, it was attended by about 350 ticket-buyers... there were twice as many musicians! However, it grew to be one of the largest festivals in the United States, drawing as many as 650,000 people throughout the week.

JazzFest Post-Katrina:

Anyone not living in a box knows that Hurricane Katrina, and, to a lesser extent, Hurricane Rita, all but destroyed parts of the city of New Orleans in September of 2005. However, shortly after the hurricane occured, the staff of JazzFest announced that the festival was happening, no matter how hard they had to work to make it happen. The 2006 Jazz Fest has been touted as a "New Orleans Homecoming", celebrating the healing power of music.

Hotels and Lodging:

Post-Katrina, with many evacuees still occupying local hotel rooms, there is a major shortage of lodging in New Orleans. Festival attendees may be forced to stay in a hotel an hour or more away, but it's predicted that most people will tolerate this slight inconvenience and attendance at JazzFest will be high.

Food:

The food at JazzFest is just what you'd expect... mouth-watering Cajun, Creole and Soul Food dishes. There are, of course, vegetarian options, but for meat-eaters, be sure to try some boiled crawfish and boudin (a rice and pork sausage). Expect long lines for food, particularly during mealtimes. Also, low-carb diets be darned... eat a couple of pralines and beignets. Don't worry, you'll sweat it off.

Crafts:

Folk Art, Jewelry, Clothing, Musical Instruments, Photographs.... the list goes on. Remember to make any large-sized purchases toward the end of the day, or check with the vendor to see if they'll hold onto it for you. You don't want to lug it around. A random note: if it's extraordinarily hot (as it often is), be careful about buying rings from jewelry vendors. I accidentally bought one two sizes too big one year, because the heat made my fingers swell.

Beating the Heat:

JazzFest can be hot. Really, really hot. So hot that even the locals can be uncomfortable. Remember to drink plenty of water, and also eat plenty of salt if you're sweating. Who says that parasols and paper fans are 100 years out of style? Umbrellas work great for instant shade and fans can provide you with momentary relief. Wear hats, loose and light-colored clothing and lots and lots of sunblock. Trust me, JazzFest is NOT the place to get a tan.

JazzFest for World Music Fans:

JazzFest celebrates New Orleans' cultural heritage, which means a lot of things to a lot of people. Therefore, traditional music of numerous cultures, including Cajun, Zydeco, Caribbean and African music are well-represented, as those genres had huge influences on the early and modern music of New Orleans. There's truly something for everyone at JazzFest.

What to Bring:

A quick checklist would include sunglasses, sunblock, a hat to shade your eyes (straw hats work great), money, and super-comfy shoes. You're gonna be doing a lot of walking and there's little to no shade at the JazzFest site. Stick to the general rules of making the most out of a festival, and you'll do fine.

What Not to Bring:

High Heels (obviously). Seriously, though: no pets, bicycles, wagons, carts, tents, canopies, beach umbrellas, audio or video equipment (you can take snapshots, though), drinks from the outside, hard-shelled coolers. Anything you bring in is subject to search, including your person and your vehicle.

The Lowdown:

The New Orleans JazzFest is held at the New Orleans Fairground Race Course, basically a big wide open field inside a dusty racetrack. It lasts for 10 days (the weekdays in between, there is nothing at the fairgrounds, most attendees hang out in the French Quarter or go tour other parts of Louisiana). Well over 100 bands showcase each weekend, from superstars to virtual unknowns. The festival is daytime-only, anyone who's not completely exhausted heads out to one of New Orleans's hundreds of music clubs to catch more music after dark.

Kids are welcome and encouraged at JazzFest, but remember that with the hot weather combined with tons of people and loud music, sensory overload can happen fast. Have an escape route ready for when the little ones start to lose it. Also, if you bring kids, keep a close eye on them! Even the most progressive parents might consider kiddie leashes.... no joke. You sure don't want to lose your little one in a sea of 120,000 people. At least write your cell phone number on a wrist bracelet and write down exactly what they're wearing before you head out. Better safe than sorry.

JazzFest is relatively expensive, but you get what you pay for. Very few festivals anywhere else in the world showcase such a premium of talent, from all genres of music. Also, keep in mind that your money is flowing back into the local economy of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. JazzFest is second only to Mardi Gras as a tourist attraction, and New Orleans needs tourism to survive, especially now.

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