Many people assume festival season begins and ends with Mardi Gras, but in New Orleans, festivals go all year around. Here are the 10 festivals you must add to your bucket list.
1. Jazz and Heritage Festival
When? April 22 – May 1, 2016
Where? The Fair Grounds
Cost? Single day advanced $58, at the gate $70, $5 children
For 46 years, the end of April has meant one thing for locals; Jazz Fest. Don’t be misled by the title though, rock, funk, hip-hop, indie, zydeco, whatever gets you grooving, Jazz Fest has it. Some headliners this year are; Elton John, Jimmy Buffett, T.I, Hozier, Keith Urban, John Legend, and Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga. Two local performers you must catch are Rebirth Brass Band and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. While the music is superb, many locals will argue the real key to the festival is the Heritage aspect. Hundreds of local and national artists set up to sell cultural art, crafts, and other handmade goods. There are multiple marketplaces emphasizing different cultures; Congo Square and African Marketplace depicting the historic soul of New Orleans, Heritage Square filled with blues and gospel tents where you’ll find the nationally renowned Contemporary Crafts showcase, and the Louisiana Marketplace with both traditional and contemporary pieces like jewelry and local art. Some things to look out for are the Mardi Gras Indians and crawfish bread. Afterward, stop by Liuzza’s By the Track for a bowl of gumbo or BBQ shrimp po-boy and enjoy the street parties that occur around the fairgrounds.
2. The Louisiana Seafood Festival
When? Sept 2 – 4, 2016
Where? City Park Festival Grounds
Falling at the beginning of October, the weather is prime time to sit outside and stuff yourself with some local delicacies. If you’re interested in how these appetizing meals are made, you’re in luck because the festival offers celebrity chef demonstrations. Always thinking of the whole family, a beer garden for adults, a Kids Tent for the young ones, and an Arts Village for the shopper of the family.
3. French Quarter Fest
When? April 7 – 10, 2016
Where? Jackson Square
Battling on and off with major cities for the title of Best Culinary City, one festival will sway you to forever vote New Orleans. Considered the Worlds Largest Block Party, over a thousand (yes, really) musicians provide free music for the sake of New Orlean’s soul. The party runs three days, has over 60 local restaurants, and is the largest free music festival in the South. Celebrating the oldest neighborhood in the city (est. 1734), this festival will give you a real taste of a New Orleans party.
4. Summer Decadence
When? August 31 – September 5, 2016
Where? French Quarter
Lasting 6 days, the Summer Decadence festival celebrates all things LGBTQ. New Orleans is known for its loving and accepting atmosphere, and this shows at the South’s largest Pride event. Often called “Gay Mardi Gras,” bars feature drag shows and contests. The parade starts at Golden Lantern Bar and struts through the French Quarter, entertaining all who watch. Due to the lack of clothing, parents might be advised to leave younger ones at home.
5. Treme Creole Gumbo Fest
When? November 12 – 13, 2016
Where? Armstrong Park
Treme Creole Gumbo Fest is a celebration of one of the cities most unique neighborhoods, and food. Judge a New Orleans cook by his gumbo and you won’t be wrong. As usual, free live music echoes throughout the park. Catch some real brass bands and the winners of the coveted “Class Got Brass” competition that local high schools compete in. In addition to the usual gumbo competition, a vegan gumbo competition was initiated in 2013 to promote a healthy lifestyle. As per New Orleans tradition, adult beverages are available for sale.
6. Red Dress Run
When? August 13, 2016
Where? Starts at Washington Square Park
Cost? Varies on advanced purchase ($45-$60 before, $70 day of)
If there’s one thing to know about the people of New Orleans, we love to party for a cause. The Red Dress Run is a beer-fueled event that raises money for local charities. Participants meet at Washington Square Park as early as 9:30 a.m. to party all day for the race at 4:00 p.m. You must be 21 to participate and you have to register prior to the run. Thousands of inebriated men and women running in red dresses through the French Quarter is certainly a sight to see.
7. Tennessee Williams Literary Festival
When? March 30 – April 3, 2016
Where? Multiple locations across the city
Cost? Prices vary (ex. panel day pass= $30, all access pass = $500)
Not only do we pride ourselves on partying, but also in the cultural gems we have produced. Tennessee Williams, while not a natural Nola citizen, flourished creatively, when he moved to the city. The festival features writers from around the word, scholarly panels, enactments of Williams’ plays and a fiction/poetry/one-act play contest.
8. New Orleans Oyster Fest
When? June 4 – 5, 2016
Where? Woldenberg Park
If you are unsure whether you’re an oyster fan or not, this festival is sure to convert. Chargrilled, raw, or fried; whatever you like, we’ve got it. Be sure to catch the oyster shucking contest on Saturday and the Acme Oyster Eating Contest on Sunday. Battle the heat with a New Orleans Snoball, and don’t forget the condensed milk. As per Nola tradition, live music keeps the spirit alive.
9. Satchmo Summerfest
When? August 4 – 7, 2016
Where? Louisiana State Museum’s Old U.S. Mint.
Celebrating one of the cities most famed natives, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, the festival serves as a break in the smoldering summer heat. Armstrong is honored through history lessons, outdoor concerts, local food, and even a jazz mass. Enjoy the sounds that started American jazz in the place it was born.
10. Mardi Gras
When? February 5 – 9, 2016
Where? All over
Easily the most recognizable festival on the list and for good reason. The city and most of the state shuts down to celebrate carnival season. While Fat Tuesday is generally thought of as Mardi Gras, to get the real experience, you want to arrive the Friday before to enjoy the weekend festivities. Don’t forget to get some king cake, the cinnamon festival treat. Although you may be tempted, unless you want to spend the night in jail, keep your clothes on.
Tips and Reminders
Parking: Street parking is advisable. Yellow line means DO NOT PARK. You will be booted. Be cautious of street cleaning signs, you will be towed if you park during street cleaning hours. Be cautious blocking in someone’s driveway, you WILL be towed.
Drinking: It’s allowed nearly everywhere. Avoid using glass bottles in the streets, but open plastic containers are fine.
Food & Drink: While at the seafood festivals; crawfish bread, jambalaya, gumbo, red beans and rice, crawfish po-boy, crawfish etouffee, BBQ shrimp, and crab au gratin. Some deserts you must experience are bananas foster, bread pudding, pralines (praw-leens) and beignets (ben-yays). Luckily, in the birthplace of the cocktail, drinks are served 24 hours. In the morning, go for a creole bloody mary, mimosa, or brandy milk punch. A hot afternoon is easily cooled down with a Pimm’s cup, mint julep, or a hurricane. In the evening, if you are still standing, go for a Sazerac or Absinthe (yes, it’s legal).
Behavior: Eat, drink, and be merry! Dance! Enjoy yourself! Put brilliantly by local author Chris Rose – “We dance even if there’s no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of others who don’t.”