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Music to Our Ears

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Two of New Orleans’ greatest festivals are just around the corner

French Quarter Festival
nol_apr08_final_medres_page_50_image_0003.jpgMy friend Bob, a true party animal, was displaced by the storm and now lives in Orlando, where he has taken to hanging out at Disney clubs. His only salvation is counting down the days to when he can come home to New Orleans for his all-time favorite three-day party, the French Quarter Festival. Bob is not alone. More than 400,000 fans attended last year’s festival, making it the largest in the South.
Photo courtesy of French Quarter Festival

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the French Quarter Festival, April 11 to 13, has come a long way from when Mayor Dutch Morial challenged local businesspeople to establish an event that would bring locals and visitors into the Quarter. One of those businessmen was musician Ronnie Kole, who met the challenge by assembling a team of fellow Quarterites who promptly created the first festival, with Ed McMahon and Chris Owens conducting the symphony on Bourbon Street.

Fast forward 25 years and the FQF has grown to include stages in Jackson Square, Woldenberg Riverfront Park, the Steamboat Natchez, the Old U.S. Mint, Bourbon Street, Royal Street, a children’s headquarters in the French Market and daily shows at historic Preservation Hall. With 15 stages, the festival offers music of every genre, ranging from classical and funk to jazz and gospel and everything in between. Featured artists include Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield, the Hot Club of New Orleans, Walter Wolfman Washington, Amanda Shaw, the Radiators and many others.

French Quarter Fest boasts the World’s Largest Jazz Brunch, with more than 65 food and beverage booths. Merchandise and drink sales support the festival, and this year local favorite Abita Beer has joined as the beer sponsor. New Orleans–based artist Philip Bascle has created the 25th anniversary
commemorative poster while artist Gail Hickman’s poster evokes the emotion of a fun day at Jackson Square. Hickman will be signing her limited editions at the Crab Bag, 606 Royal St., on April 11 from 4 to 6 p.m. Other merchandise includes a limited-edition sterling silver pin created by Wellington & Company of Royal Street, anniversary and festival apparel, and a 25th anniversary program book that will include a limited-edition CD featuring 10 tracks by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Bob has secured his flights, a quaint hotel in the Quarter and calls me weekly counting down the days when he can lounge on the river, beer in one hand, roasted turkey drum stick in the other, back in his homeland, very far away from the land of Disney. For more information, visit www.fqfi.org.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
nol_apr08_final_medres_page_50_image_0004.jpgThe 2008 Jazz Fest promises to be the best ever, and Quint Davis, producer and director of the festival, couldn’t agree more. “Welcoming Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow, and Keyshia Cole for the first time, in the same year that we’ve added the Thursday back to the festival and in the same year we’re bringing back all-time fest favorites the Neville Brothers, Jimmy Buffett, Santana, Widespread Panic, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly and Diana Krall, among so many others, speaks to our serious effort to grow the festival at a time when New Orleans needs it the most.”

After 14 years of attending Jazz Fest, I guess I am an official Jazz Fester, not as in the fanny-packwearing, portable-chair-carrying fester, but the decorative-shrimp-boot-with-bright-vintage-dress wearing type. Big difference. I am part of what you may call the bohemian festers. We float from stage to stage congregating with the other boho sorts, never staying anywhere too long. We easily drift from stage to stage to VIP area, as there is always something else to see or another boho fester to hook up with. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not part of those official krewes that roam the fairgrounds and stake claims (although we are invited guests at the Pink Flamingo encampment at the Acura Stage). We’re more like an intergalactic krewe, and the entire fairgrounds is our galaxy.

The freedom to roam allows us to see more music than we could ever possibly absorb in a day and brings us in touch with many other travelers who are fueled by the music, the food, new friends, and the celebration of life that is the New Orleans Jazz Fest.

nol_apr08_final_medres_page_50_image_0002.jpgSince we never miss a Kermit Ruffins set at Jazz Fest, I spoke with Kermit to find out what are some of his favorite things about the festival.

Favorite Food: “I like everything at Jazz Fest, but my favorite is to down a good plate of red beans and rice with a side order of hot sausage!”

Favorite Stage: “Economy Hall. They have the best musicians, the best music and the best audience.”

Best Jazz Fest Memory: Wow, I have so many good memories, but I guess the best is the first time I played the festival with Rebirth Brass Band as part of second-line parade in the ’80s.