This coming French Quarter Fest will be its 36th year in action, continuing its evolution from a small, local festival to the largest celebratory gathering of Louisiana food, art, music, and culture. Started during the 1984 World’s Fair, the festival was a way to bring residents back to the Quarter following extensive sidewalk repairs. Today, over 1,500 community volunteers are involved in the production of the festival. On over 20 stages throughout the Quarter, every genre of live music, from R&B to zydeco, folk to gospel, and New Orleans funk to contemporary and traditional jazz will be showcased. Famous New Orleans restaurants will be there, such as Antoine’s, Broussard’s, Galatoire’s, Muriel’s Jackson Square, and Pat O’Briens, among many others, for a celebration unique to New Orleans.
With over 250 musical acts, the festival will feature 42 first-timers, as well as plenty of returning favorites. Check out Flow Tribe, Amanda Shaw, and Rockin’ Dopsie on the Chevron Stage, a Cajun/zydeco spot that will also bring in some other genres this year. Rebirth Brass Band will be playing the Abita Beer Stage at the riverfront, and you can catch Brass-A-Holics on the Jack Daniels Stage. The Lost Bayou Ramblers are headlining the GE Stage, and you can take in some Sunday morning gospel at the Tropical Isle Stage. The full lineup is available at frenchquarterfest.org.
The culinary lineup includes a wide variety of restaurants with newcomers in addition to classic New Orleans spots. Some of the delicious highlights will be cochon de lait po-boys, crabmeat-stuffed chargrilled oysters, and Baked Alaska. Tails to Geaux: Benefitting the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation will also boil crawfish Friday through Sunday at the Jazz Museum at the Mint. Returning restaurant favorites include Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse and GW Fins.
Abita Beer, a local brewing company and major sponsor for this year’s celebration, will bring some of Louisiana’s best beers. And, for those who prefer other varieties of booze, the new Wine Café at Washington Artillery Park has a selection of wine to choose from, and New Orleans Original Daiquiris will be on hand again. There will also be plenty of non-alcoholic options.
One of the best things about French Quarter Fest is that it’s free, but for those festival-goers who want to glam up their experience with free drinks, special viewing areas, and other such perks, VIP packages are available for purchase.
The festival will kick off with a second line parade on Thursday, April 11, at 10 a.m., departing from the 100 block of Bourbon Street and heading to Jackson Square.
On Friday, April 12, the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint will host Me Got Fiyo: Professor Longhair Symposium, during which attendees can hear historical perspectives of Professor Longhair and Caribbean influences and attend panels with his family, friends, and former bandmates.
At the Jones Walker Let Them Talk Stage on Saturday, April 13, and Sunday, April 14, at the Jazz Museum at the Mint, interviews will be held with an assortment of artists, such as Quiana Lynell, Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers, and James Andrews. All interviews are free and open to the public.
Also on Saturday and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Chevron’s Children’s STEM Zone will be hosting “STEM World’s Fair,” with interactive fun for families on Toulouse Street at the Natchez Wharf on the river. This year will showcase each of the seven continents and the galaxy, incorporating elements of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into hands-on learning activities for children.
To conclude the festival on Sunday afternoon at the St. Louis Cathedral, there will be the Annual Spring Concert at 3 p.m. Following that will be “Dancing at Dusk” on the 400 block of Royal Street, from 6:00 until 7:15 p.m., where you can swing to the sounds of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Tom Saunders and the Tomcats, and more.
Each day, the French Market Traditional Jazz Stage and the Chevron Cajun-Zydeco Showcase will feature dance classes in traditional jazz, 1920s Charleston, swing dance, Cajun jitterbug, and zydeco. Sponsored by Academy Sports+Outdoors, all classes are taught by professional dancers and are free.
Artist Ayo Scott has been chosen as the festival’s annual artist, painting both the French Quarter Festival and Satchmo SummerFest posters. The 2019 poster, Soul Queen Song, features a portrait of regular festival headliner, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas.
The economic impact of the festival is significant, employing over 1,700 musicians and hosting over 60 local restaurants. Organizers do their best to keep funds stimulating the local economy, only hiring local companies during the festival for sound, stages, sanitation, security, etc. According to a survey conducted at the 2017 festival by the University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center, French Quarter Fest’s impact amounted to $190 million and a total of $15.8 million in tax revenue for local and state governments.
For more information on the music lineup, participating restaurants, and more, go to frenchquarterfest.org.
Photos by Zack Smith Photography