NEW ORLEANS – This year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicked off its two weekend weekends on Friday, filling the air with the sounds of R&B, rock ‘n roll, zydeco, pop, blues, country, rap, gospel – and of course jazz.
Music fans flocked to the Fair Grounds Race Course as the gates opened at 11am. They roamed between 14 stages or tents, many spreading blankets or tarps and setting up folding chairs and claiming spots for their favorite artists to perform.
And some danced, especially in front of the festival’s Fais Do-Do Stage, where Zydeco played by Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie rang out.
Seattle retiree Joe Hulsey said he and his wife have been in New Orleans for the past four months. Hulsey, a music festival veteran, said Jazz Fest was his favorite.
“There’s just no comparison,” he said. “It’s just one of the gems of New Orleans that I love. It’s a whole vibe.
“The music, the food, the music is unbeatable,” he said, smiling.
Food was available from dozens of booths manned by Louisiana restaurants. There were a variety of variations on traditional Louisiana fare – numerous seafood dishes or po’boy sandwiches with crawfish, sausage, pork or alligator. And there were other cuisines, like Ajun Cajun fried noodles.
Friday’s music program included scheduled performances by Lizzo; Robert Plant & Alison Krauss; Great Freedia; tanks and the bangas; Wu-Tang Clan + The Soul Rebels; Nicholas Payton; Mavis staples; Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers; Charlie Musselwhite; and Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience.
It was Lizzo who lured Kalindi Cordero from Dallas and her best friend Lana Zring from Atlanta to the festival.
“This city is just so special and when I heard Lizzo was going to be here I started following the lineup and tickets and hotels and everything,” Cordero said. “It’s the diversity and representation of the city that shines through at this festival.”
Lizzo didn’t disappoint fans as she roared through a variety of her hits, including “About Damn Time” and “Grrls.”
“I’ve been touring, but it’s not like a jazz fest,” she told the crowd stretching from the front of the stage to the end of the track.
Jennifer Seagle, from New Orleans, said she’s a big fan of the singer, who champions empowerment, self-love and body positivity.
“I absolutely love her,” Seagle said. “I love her energy. i love her attitude. You can’t hear their music and you can’t feel good.”
Big Freedia’s bounce/rap show was set ahead of Lizzo and Tank and The Bangas for the festival’s main stage. “I love that I get the opportunity to showcase my art to a larger audience and there’s a lot more space to do my thing. We’re here to entertain and we’re going to break it up,” she said.
Freedia, known for collaborating with Drake on “Nice for What” and Beyoncé on “Break My Soul,” said there are no plans to join Lizzo’s graduation performance, though the two teamed up for Freedia’s 2018 hit “Karaoke.”
“I support them either way,” she said.
Freedia Friday released new music — “$100 Bill” — a collaboration with R&B singer-songwriter Ciara.
This year’s festival also shines a spotlight on Puerto Rico with Friday performances by two artists from the US territory: Tambuye and Grammy-nominated Latin dance band Plena Libre.
“There’s a whole vibe out there, and people should come out and feel it. I’m excited about what’s about to happen,” said festival producer Quint Davis.
“We have a lot of people coming in,” he said. “Lizzo, phenomenal talent on Friday, and Ed Sheeran and Jazmine Sullivan on Saturday and Jill Scott on Sunday. And that’s just the first weekend. We also have HER coming next week along with Dead & Company, Kane Brown and Jon Batiste. Everyone wants to play at the festival and everything just fell into place to make that happen.”
Sunshine, temperatures around 80 degrees (26 C) and cool breezes helped the spectators. Davis said a good opening day forecast helped ticket sales. Patchy showers may dampen Saturday and Sunday shows, however.
Kelly Schulz, a spokeswoman for New Orleans and Company, said hotel occupancy for the city’s downtown corridor is above Jazz Fest 2022 numbers — the first year after COVID-19-related cancellations in 2020 and 2021 — but not quite as good as the ones for 2019.
“We have an occupancy rate of 83% for Saturday. In 2022 it was 78% and in 2019, before COVID, it was 92%,” she said.
Schulz said this is just a snapshot of how well the city’s tourism industry is recovering after COVID-19 forced a shutdown: “The numbers we’re seeing for Jazz Fest are just another example of people who are ready are to travel again and gain personal experiences. be confronted with connections again.”
This year’s festival will also be cashless for the first time in its 52-year history. The festival will feature booths where cash can be exchanged for prepaid cards. All major credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards, as well as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay were accepted for tickets, groceries, goods and more.
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.
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