Jazz & Heritage Festival Is A Musical Odyssey Through The Soul Of New Orleans

(Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

Imagine this — Fantasia, Chris Stapleton, and Big Freedia all enter a bar in New Orleans. The trio may seem unlikely, however, in the Big Easy, they come together alongside thousands of others to celebrate the soulful rhythms and rich heritage of this iconic city for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. And they’re not the only ones – the multi-weekend festival is where thousands descend to the Fair Grounds Race Track to see a collective of artists across a multitude of genres.  

Unlike its contemporaries such as Coachella, or Stagecoach, Jazz Fest sets itself apart by simply creating global pockets that draw in people from all walks of life. This year, the festival was sponsored by Expedia, which added ancillary events to accompany the festival, including the first of it’s kind Global Jam at Joy Theater, featuring electrifying performances by hometown favorites Tank and the Bangas, Colombian sensations Bomba Estéreo, and Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals.

Jazz & Heritage Festival Is A Journey Through The Soul Of New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – APRIL 28: Anderson .Paak performs on Day 4 of 2024 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course on April 28, 2024 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

Much like the intricate layers of flavor in the city’s beloved dish, gumbo, New Orleans embodies a rich tapestry of culture. It transcends mere music, embracing the diverse narratives of cultures converging in this melting pot of a city. From Italian to French, Native American to African, and Cuban influences, New Orleans boasts a rich history shaped by a mosaic of traditions. Jazz Fest epitomizes this, going beyond mere music to celebrate the vibrant soul of the Crescent City. On the grounds of the festival, you could see these cultures firsthand, with Mardi Gras Indians clad in traditional garb in vibrant colors, chanting, and bands parading through the streets playing the sounds of iconic jazz musicians of yesteryear.

Jazz & Heritage Festival Is A Journey Through The Soul Of New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – FEBRUARY 13: Lil Ham of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians is seen during 2024 Mardi Gras on February 13, 2024 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

At Jazz Fest, the spotlight shines on a specific culture each year, with this edition placing Colombia at the forefront, showcasing the vibrant sounds of salsa legends and folk musicians Grupo Niche, Rancho Aparte, Agrupacíon Changó, Cimarrón, and Goyo. As you can tell, the festival isn’t limited to jazz; it’s a celebration of blues, gospel, R&B, country, and more. Creativity takes space here, and artwork is abound—at the marketplaces festival goers can purchase work from local artisans from woodshop to canvas, vinyls of live jazz, and an array of cuisine that has roots from all over such as the sausage and jalapeno bread and the Crawfish Monica (a must-try if you’re there).

Amidst the vibrant artwork and tantalizing cuisine that line the festival grounds, music takes center stage across its 13 dynamic stages, attracting nearly half a million music lovers from near and far. In New Orleans, music isn’t just entertainment—it’s a universal language that transcends age, race, and background, uniting people in a shared celebration of life.

Perhaps one of the best takeaways is that New Orleans is simply a city like no other — cities like Houston and New York may be lauded for their diversity, however, it’s in New Orleans where that distinction feels actualized. Not by just placing these cultures on display for perusing, but in its music. It’s the city where music is the universal language and it shows—at any given moment during the first week of the four day festival, music tents weren’t confined or segregated by demographics or groups, but everyone immersed themselves in diverse musical stylings, whether it was dancing to cumbia at the Cultural Exchange Pavilion Stage, or the shuffling of feet during praise and worship at the gospel tent, or even watching even the smallest of kids get their bounce on during Big Freedia’s set at the Congo Square stage. Music knows no age and no bounds here. 

A festival birthed for and by New Orleans, as much as people come to see some of their favorite acts for themselves, the fest is a large amplifier of local as well as up-and-coming talent such as the Preservation Hall Brass Band, which “has held the torch of New Orleans music aloft for more than 50 years,” and Juvenile, a product of Uptown NOLA and a member of Cash Money. In fact in the midst of Juvenile and Mannie Fresh’s set, they brought out Hot Boy Turk to perform some of their greatest hits. Moreover, showing their hometown the utmost love throwing t-shirts in the crowd and Juvenile’s latest entrepreneurial collaboration, limited edition 400 Degreez Chee Wee’s chips, named after his seminal album. 

Among artists and festival-goers alike, there’s a unanimous sentiment: New Orleans exudes a unique southern charm that warmly embraces even the most distant newcomers. Attendees not only discover new talents but also provide artists with a platform to broaden their fanbase.

Simply put, Jazz Fest is for everybody: because of its global approach, the fest casts a wide net, inviting people from all corners of the world to join in the celebration of music, culture, and community. While you may initially be drawn in by the allure of jazz, your experience in New Orleans extends far beyond music alone. In New Orleans, you won’t just get full from the food, but from the heritage too—each corner of the city reveals a chapter of global history, enriching your understanding not only of New Orleans but of the world at large. From its rich culture to its storied past, every step taken here is a journey through time and across continents.

For more information on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, visit the website. 

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