A Texican in New Orleans: Lessons Learned from Jazz Fest

Photos by Craig Hlavaty
This past weekend was the last for this year's edition of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which started way back on April 27. The festival runs over two weekends, usually Thursday through Sunday. Obviously, since it is a uniquely Nawlins institution going back to 1970, it's not a festival that can be re-created just anywhere. Also, with that age comes experience.

My job means that I get to cover tons of festivals. Huge tentpoles like Free Press Summer Fest, Vans Warped Tour, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Houston International Festival, Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and the new electronica-geared Identity Festival are some of my favorites. I would still like to see Chaos In Tejas in Austin, and finally hit up some of those crazy British countryside deals like Glastonbury and Reading.

Forgive my lateness, but Jazz Fest was a whole new animal to me, but I think I will be visiting this one more in the future.

You Don't Always Have to Cater to the Youth Vote: Not every festival has to include a token electronic or dubstep act. Jazz Fest relied on sturdy marquee acts like Tom Petty, the Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles to draw in the mainstream. The younger big-name acts like Bon Iver, Feist, Givers and Florence + The Machine are hip enough to draw in the youth, but not weird enough to make Mom and Dad go home sick.

Plus, injecting influential acts like Dr. John, Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint means that you can still educate. Even Bruce Hornsby knows that people under 30 only know him as the dude that was sampled by Tupac.

Everyone, everyone, loves Gary Clark Jr., though. He can play in front of college-age stoners, preppies and investment bankers and make them all shimmy.

Great, Cheap Regional Foods Rule: Obviously no other festival in the world can legitimately get away with having crawfish bread, jambalaya, fried chicken and beignets on the menu, and having it not be a bastardization. But Jazz Fest can, and they do it without breaking your wallet in half. I even saw Vietnamese food there, which to me is the second official food of Houston.

Sound Quality Matters: I could be blocks and blocks away from the horse track and still hear whoever was on the Gentilly stage great. On the way out on Friday, I discovered Rodrigo y Gabriela, but it was too late to come back in and watch. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to think of a stage I visited this weekend that had bad sound.

Plenty of Shade and Room to Roam Is Good: True, we are just waltzing into what promises to be another oppressive summer, but Jazz Fest wasn't terribly hot to deal with. You could find some respite in the tents, tons of cool drinks -- alcoholic and not -- and there were plenty of arts and crafts booths to duck into.

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I went for the first time this year as well, on the first weekend. Had an amazing time as a veteran of ACL, SXSW, etc. it was really refreshing to see how laid back, unpolished, and genuinely friendly the crowd and festival as a whole was. Managed tickets for my fiance outside the gate of $20, $40, and $20 for the each weekend day. 7pm endings were great. The party in the neighborhood on the walk to the car was perfect for winding down easy and we had time to get back to the room, shower and relax before heading out on the town. Will be making an annual trip of this fest.


There is (or was, before Katrina) a large Vietnamese community & tradition in NOLA.

The family that owns Pho One on West Westheimer (past the Beltway) is from NOLA. They were named Best of Houston Best Pho Restaurant a few years ago by HPress.

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