When you’re chowing down on the country’s best foods, pontificating about the drive-thru daiquiris of years gone by and enjoying music at every corner, it’s obvious that New Orleans knows how to party. And besides all the everyday awesomeness of living in The Big Easy, every few weeks there’s the Mardi Gras of good times — New Orleans festivals. Don’t you worry ma cherie, StyleBlueprint has you covered when it comes to hitting all of this city’s biggest festivals for spring and summer!
French Quarter Festival: April 7-10, 2016
French Quarter Fest wrapped up this past weekend and it’s one of the best ways to ring in the spring festival season! Located in, you guessed it, the French Quarter, the event brings together the best in music, food, art, history and good ol’ Louisiana fun. This free festival (actually known as the largest free music event in the country) is a treat for all ages — this year, attendants could attend NOLA jitterbug dance classes, a juried art show and take part in the “world’s largest jazz brunch.” All that on top of the hundreds of New Orleans musicians playing the best music you’ve ever heard (double bonus for the festival pushing local New Orleans musicians and Cajun and Zydeco performers from across the state of Louisiana).
Though you may have missed this year’s French Quarter Fest, there’s always time to prep your to-do vacation list for next spring! Here’s where to start: fqfi.org/frenchquarter
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: April 22-24 and April 28-May 1, 2016
If you guys read my pieces, you know that I don’t shy away from offering my own, biased two cents, and I have to say, Jazz Fest is by far my favorite New Orleans festival out of the bunch. Occurring for two weekends a year, the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May, Jazz Fest gets some of the biggest musical talents in the world to play for huge crowds. In fact this year, Stevie Wonder, Pearl Jam, Beck, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monae, Elvis Costello, Paul Simon and more will be performing. And when I say “more,” I literally mean that I cannot fit the more than 100 musical acts scheduled to rock your face off. Your musical cup will runneth over as you wander around the fairgrounds at different mini-venues, like the Blues Tent, Congo Square Stage, Gospel Stage (my personal fave) to catch AMAZING mini-concerts that you may never see live outside the event.
Listening to all that music builds up an appetite, and New Orleans never disappoints when it comes to food. Visit the Jazz Fest website for the specifics of who is cooking what this year, but we will leave you with three words: bacon pecan square. And if you want a quick break from all the music and food (which we don’t know why you would), make sure you bring some money to buy the fabulous work of the hundreds of artists who show off and sell their creations in the artist villages. Single-day tickets are $65 ($75 at the gate), and VIP, weekend-long packages are available online, as well as the schedule of events, featured foods, kids activities and more. Visit nojazzfest.com.
New Orleans Oyster Festival: June 4-5, 2016
New Orleans knows oysters — raw, charbroiled, fried, stuffed, Rockefeller’d (am I sounding too much like Bubba?), so why not have a festival to celebrate these slimy little suckers?! Besides stuffing your face, festivalgoers can learn about the Louisiana Gulf Oyster, the farmers who harvest them and help raise funds for coastal restoration.
The “shuckin’ and jivin'” lasts for two days, with events including the P&J oyster shucking contest, musical acts like Honey Island Swamp Band and Bag of Donuts, the Acme oyster eating contest and many cooking demonstrations. And, by the way, admission is free! Visit neworleansoysterfestival.org to learn more.
ESSENCE Festival: June 30-July 3, 2016
New Orleans has served as host to one of the biggest events showcasing the best in R&B, hip-hop, jazz, blues, pop and more. ESSENCE Fest got its start in the early ’90s when Essence Magazine began a three-day festival to not only entertain crowds with the best of African-American music and culture, but also provide a series of seminars to empower African-American women and men. This year, musical acts include Mariah Carey, Ciara, Kendrick Lamar and many others; speakers include Iyanla Vanzant, Misty Copeland, Phaedra Parks, Tyra Banks and more.
The evening concerts occur at the Louisiana Superdome; the free events, like the speaker series and marketplace, take place during the day at the Convention Center. Check the ESSENCE Festival website to find out rates of various admission packages, as well as single-ticket prices. Learn more at essence.com/festival.
FestiGals: July 28-31, 2016
FestiGals may not be as well-known as the Tennessee Williams Festival or Jazz Fest, but the “original New Orleans girlfriend getaway weekend,” which originated in 2011, is a prime vacay for StyleBlueprint readers! This women-centric festival touts itself as offering a safe, fun environment to do some female bonding. Previous FestiGals celebrations featured fun ladies like “Today Show” cohost (and FACE of the South) Hoda Kotb, journalist Soledad O’Brien and chef Tory McPhail. Highlights from this year’s event include a keynote speech from motivational speaker Carla Harris, Sip & Shop, cooking demonstration and tasting, Bloody Mary Mixer, Bodacious Bras for a Cause Brunch & Auction (decorated bras help raise funds to support women with cancer) and the Stiletto Stroll (an all-women, second line parade).
There are lots of different ticket options, or you can purchase an all-weekend package or a la carte tickets. Most of the event takes place in or around the JW Marriott Hotel on Canal Street in downtown New Orleans. Learn more at festigals.org.
Satchmo Summer Fest: August 4-7, 2016
If you think this is a festival celebrating Big Foot, you definitely don’t know your jazz history. Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong was born in New Orleans in 1901 and became the stuff of legend with his influential artistry as a trumpeter, singer and composer spanning decades, over his entire life. Honoring the talent and memory of this jazz legend comes in the form of a three-day festival at the start of August (he was born August 4). This music showcase takes place at the Louisiana State Museum’s Old U.S. Mint (right by the French Market, off Decatur Street and Esplanade Avenue), and features fantastic contemporary and traditional jazz and brass bands, mostly from New Orleans.
Festivalgoers pay $5 for a daily admission wristband (children under 12 are free), which allows you to come and go as you please during the day. And as any true NOLA festival goes, there are crazy delicious local delicacies and access to talented artists. Last year’s Red Bean Alley menu included crepes, crab cakes, shrimp yakisoba, jerk chicken and, of course, sno-balls from Plum Street Snoballs. This year’s lineup hasn’t been set, but check the site often for the 2016 schedule. Learn more at fqfi.org/satchmo.
Whitney White Linen Night: August 6, 2016
Handling New Orleans’ humid weather seems a bit more manageable (and stylish) in crisp, white linen. Again, I’ve always loved this event because there’s something so cool seeing everyone wander around the Warehouse Arts District in always-fabulous white. But wearing white linen is not the highlight of this festival, it’s the fact that you get to peruse the many art galleries in this area, sample delicious food and drinks sponsored by some of New Orleans’ best restaurants and bars, and hear great live music. The event is free, unless you want to buy the work of these fabulous artists, so bring your wallet anyway. And the after-party at the Contemporary Arts Center will complete the night! (Heads up, there’s also Dirty Linen Night, a similar event promoting art galleries and antique shops for those on Royal Street.)
A big disclaimer: Anyone who has been to/lived in/heard of New Orleans, knows that downpours can pop up with no warning at all. One year, I was at said White Linen Night and when the rain began pouring, the event became one big wet T-shirt contest. So as a heads up, make sure you have something underneath that cute linen outfit, or you’ll be giving everyone a look at your own personal gallery, if ya know what I’m saying. Learn more at cacno.org.
Southern Decadence: August 31-September 5, 2016
Known as the Gay Mardi Gras, Southern Decadence is a celebration of gay life, music and culture in New Orleans. This year’s event marks the 42nd anniversary of this, well, decadent festival. The event organizers have yet to announce details of the event; however, each year’s Southern Decadence festival has an official theme (last year’s was Swimmin’ With the Gods and Goddesses), official grand marshals, official colors, official charities and even an official song (last year was the infectious “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars).
Festival events include a drag show, block party, parade, bead toss and lots of other great happenings throughout the French Quarter. Because some events don’t require admittance fees and some do, the easiest thing is to map out the schedule (once it’s announced) and find out what the associated costs are with each event that strikes your fancy. Learn more at southerndecadence.com.
There are many more worthwhile festivals that cater to anyone in search of an awesome time this spring and summer. They include Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, New Orleans Pride Festival, Greek Fest, French Market Creole Tomato Festival, COOLinary New Orleans, Bayou Boogaloo and more.
Planning a trip to the Crescent City later this year? Keep your eyes peeled for our NOLA festival guide for fall and winter. Happy festivaling!