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A music-lover’s trip to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

If I had to describe New Orleans, I’d say it’s a city with a soundtrack.  

It’s unlike any other city in the United States. Music emanates from everywhere. 

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the city, and taking in the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which is one of the premier music events in the world.  

Every April, over two weekends, some of the world’s greatest musicians convene at the fairgrounds and play on stages big and small to more than 400,000 visitors. And while fans are there to see incredible performances – I saw The Killers, Chris Stapleton and Anderson .Paak – music is woven into the fabric of the town.  

In town for a sports event? Music will follow you. The basketball and football stadiums are very close to downtown. I walked 25 minutes from my hotel and attended a playoff basketball game. In the basketball arena, they had bands and DJs and dancing on every level of the concourse at the game. As I watched a random group of fans dance in sync to one of the DJs spinning music before the basketball game, I thought ‘only in New Orleans.’ 

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is unlike any other

But if you’re there to immerse yourself in music, the festival is the place to be. 

Eclectic is the word that best describes the array of musicians and bands that played during my visit. There is a jazz tent, a blues tent, a gospel tent, a Cajun stage, in addition to two main stages and other stages. The Killers, Chris Stapleton, Anderson.Paak and Vampire Weekend headlined the first weekend. Other major international acts included The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Neil Young, Hozier, Queen Latifah and Greta Van Fleet. If you are a music fan, it’s an absolute smorgasbord of musical talent.  

There are many unique features to the festival

Music all day. Shows take place between 11am and 7pm, Thursday thru Sunday. Headline acts take the stage at about 5:30pm each day. This gives everyone the opportunity to return to downtown New Orleans at the conclusion of the days’ shows, and for me, that meant I had the opportunity to take in MORE music in more venues in the city.   

Shuttle in and out. If you go, don’t drive. There is nowhere to park. The organizers have set up a sophisticated and frequent shuttle transfer system from downtown to the festival, which is by far the most efficient way to get in and out of the grounds. It takes about 20 minutes on the shuttle to get there. 

Take in the vibe. As for the festivals’ patrons, there is an incredible diversity of people of all ages, cultures kicking back in an atmosphere that mirrors the city’s relaxed, friendly and easygoing ways. The crowds are big, but they’re all just there to have a great time enjoying shows, singing along and dancing. There was even a conga line that Louis Prima Jr. started during his show that dozens of patrons joined in on.  

Come for the music, stay for the food. There is plenty of great food and drink available. I had heard about the famous alligator Po’Boy – I tried it just to say that I had. (Tasting note: It’s like chicken!) As a veteran of festivals, I’ve been hit with inflated prices for water, but in New Orleans, large bottles of water were only $3.50. They clearly wanted people to stay hydrated in what can be an intense sun. 

Music in the city. Once you wander away from the festival, there are so many places to continue your musical education. Here are four highlights of cool spots I visited and heard some excellent jazz and blues musicians ply their craft.  

  • Spotted Cat Music Club 
  • Snug Harbour Jazz Club 
  • Preservation Hall 
  • Three Keys at Ace Hotel 
Marching Band at Night
Photoservice | iStock

What about Bourbon Street? Yes, I did leave bars on Bourbon Street off this list. If you like Times Square in New York, you will probably like Bourbon Street. For me, I can take it or leave it. There are so many other places in New Orleans that are much less touristy and so much more fun.  

If you go:  

  • CAA Travel Consultants can help you plan everything for your ideal musical getaway. Book an appointment online with one of our experts.  
  • Travel to the U.S. can be costly if you need medical attention, so ask about CAA Travel Insurance when you book or learn more here 
  • Pay attention to the weather. New Orleans weather in May is like the height of summer in Ontario – with highs of 30C and overnight lows of 20C.  
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