Laissez les bons temps rouler… at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

The Cultural Exchange Pavilion offers spectators a rare opportunity to participate in seminars about the unique idiosyncrasies of the Mardi Gras Indians, watch demos by local artisans, and witness "Indian practices" that encompass more than 30 tribes ranging from the oldest-known, century-aged Creole Wild West tribe to newer generations of gangs, such as Trouble Nation. HBO television series Treme writer Lolis Eric Elie and David Simon, co-creator and executive producer, lead a panel discussion about how the media portrays Mardi Gras Indians.

Nestled in the center of the festival are the Louisiana Marketplace tents, a bustling bazaar teaming with alluring art, photography, jewelry, clothing, and accessories, all offered by the state's finest traditional and contemporary artists. The Congo Square Marketplace, adjacent to the stage dedicated to African, Caribbean and Latino music, features an array of arts and crafts traditionally of these regions.

Sights and sounds abound? nevertheless, the food makes this festival unique. You won't find "fair food" here: no churros, no fried butter or corndogs. No way. The food offerings at Jazz Fest include the best of classic New Orleans, Creole, and Cajun fare including pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo, plenty of crawfish and oyster treats, and Cochan de lait Po Boys? t?lman bon!

Jazz Fest schedules the last acts to finish at 7 p.m. each night, by design. The French Quarter is just 10 minutes away from the Festival grounds, giving visitors ample time to take advantage of the bars and nightlife on Bourbon Street, and to catch Jazz Fest musicians playing in intimate, local venues. With 12 stages and multiple parades throughout several days over two weekends, it is virtually impossible to catch every act, so many of the world-class musicians and bands are booked in local music venues for an unrivaled concert experience, with shows taking place all throughout the night and into the early morning hours.

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click to enlarge The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival - photo by Joe Frisbie
photo by Joe Frisbie
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

This weekend, The Big Easy will once again open its heart and soul for the two-weekend, seven-day 42nd annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell. Internationally known as simply "Jazz Fest," this august musical institution brings together artists of every genre known in popular music; not just jazz, but country, gospel, blues, zydeco, R&B, and rock, for over 400,000 anticipated festival-goers.

Dr. John at last years Jazz Fest

Headlining on the 12 stages this year are Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Jimmy Buffet, The Eagles, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Little Anthony & The Imperials, the Foo Fighters, the Zac Brown Band, My Morning Jacket, Al Green, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, Ani Di Franco, Bunny Wailer, The Beach Boys, and Galactic. Both contemporary and old-style jazz legends like Herbie Hancock, Bruce Hornsby, David Sandborn, Kermit Ruffin and Trombone Shorty are included, as well as many of the iconic brass bands for which Bourbon Street is most famous, among them, Rebirth, Dirty Dozen, Hot 8, Original Liberty Street, and the Storyville Jazz Band with George French. Perennial favorites like The Neville Brothers, Dr. John & The Lower Nine, and the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band are again making their traditional appearances.

The Jazz Fest experience goes beyond just the sounds, however; it encompasses the sights, smells, and tastes that have made New Orleans so beloved to the folks who love it. Every year, Jazz Fest focuses on one aspect of New Orleans culture and history — this year, it's the Mardi Gras Indians, famous around the world for their music and the beautiful, intricate artisanship of their colorful headdresses and suits, typically smothered in neon-bright colors, feathers, and sequins, and painstakingly created. [More after the jump.]

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