The Best Jazz Festival hits New Orleans

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival


Story and Photos By: Paul Piazza

There aren’t many festivals that are comparible to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This daytime event, which has been in existence since 1970, has 12 stages of continuous music. It happens annually during the last two weekends of April at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a 145 acre race track in New Orleans.

This year was unique however, as weekend one began on the eve of the festival with heavy hearts for most festival patrons,  as it was the day after Prince had passed away.  There were were several meaningful and unique tributes to The Purple One by artists at the festival and all over the city. Anders Osborne played “Purple Rain” along with Eric McFadden on mandolin on the eve of the festival at the world famous Tipitina’s club. Sharon Jones spoke of Prince encouraging her dreams, showing up in Paris one night to surprise her and the band, and joining them onstage to jam. One of the best tributes was psychedelic soul artist Janelle Monae who dedicated her entire set to the man whom she credited as her mentor and rocked out big time at the end with “Let’s go crazy.” 

The featured headliners on the first weekend were Pearl Jam, Van Morrison, Steely Dan and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Weekend two featured Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, and Neil Young, among many others. While obviously the headliners draw the biggest crowds, exciting local and colorful talent was to be found in every corner.

On other stages, revelers discovered the talent of The Black Lillies of Knoxville, Tenessee, Carlos Vives of Columbia, the amazing solo blues set by Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and New Orleans’ sensational Glenn Andrews Band. 

Phenomenal musicians from all over the globe descend on New Orleans during this unique two weekend event. Each night during the two weeks of the festival, one could also catch world class talent in many of the local clubs. Music often went into the wee hours of the morning as some sets ran from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m!  It’s an astounding treat for true music fans.  

However, the best part of the experience might be catching musicians jamming in unique pairings that may not happen elsewhere. 


One example of this instance was when NOLA native Trombone Shorty hosted his 2nd annual Treme Threauxdown at the Saenger Theatre on Saturday, April 23.  Special guest performers included the following: Cee-Lo Green, Nick Jonas, Ledesi, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and George Porter Jr. and Leo Nocentelli of the Meters. A day later during the festival, Shorty joined Jonas during his set. 

A couple of nights earlier, Trombone Shorty drummer Joey Peebles had sat in with Osborne and his band at Tipitina’s. At the same gig, Ivan Neville (of the legendary Neville family) and Tony Hall of Dumpstaphunk sat in with opener Neville Jacobs.

Guitarist Eric McFadden, a San Francisco Bay Area vocalist and songwriter, has been touring with Osborne, and their collaborations just eep getting better and better. McFadden has appeared onstage with groups ranging from Widespread Panic, to George Clinton and the P Funk All-stars. He could be found at New Orleans venues nightly throughout the festival and on the big stage with Osborne at the festival itself. 

The festival’s second biggest attraction is, of course, the food. Many consider Jazz Fest’s food choices to be some of the finest festival fare to be found anywhere. Seafood, alligator, an amazing array of Po Boy sandwiches, and a wide array of delicious etoufee and gumbo can be found at the colorful food booths. The majority of these booths are run by some of the finest restaurants and caterers of New Orleans. 

All in all, Jazz Fest is an uniquely cultural, musically satisfying spiritual experience. It was hard not to be moved by the haunting melodies of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, the deep soulfulness of 74 year-old Chief Monk Boudreux and the Golden Eagles, and Porter and Zigaboo Modeliste of the Meters jamming with the Red Hot Chili Peppers on “Give it away.” 

It looks like this festival will be around for a long time to come with the growing legacy of a more recent generation of NOLA powerhouses such as Trombone Shorty, Osborne, Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Galactic and The Revivalists. It’s an exceptional festival that’s well worth putting on your bucket list. 


Edit by Leah Storkson