New Orleans Jazz Fest
New Orleans Jazz Fest, Nicole Toms practically gushed as she emerged into the sunlight from a massive tent where a gospel choir had brought the crowd to its feet.
“Oh my God, I love everything about this,” she said. “The incredible variety of music, the layout of the stages and the food – it’s the best.”
Toms, of Mountain View, California, was describing her fifth visit to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a blockbuster event that draws hundreds of thousands of people during two weekends each spring and will continue through May 6.
Festival co-founder Quint Davis would say Toms wasn’t merely describing an event, but homing in on New Orleans’ heritage. “This festival is a an indigenous part of our culture,” he told Reuters.
Now in its 43rd year, the quintessential New Orleans event better known as Jazz Fest broke new ground when it was launched in 1970 by Davis, an ethnomusicologist then just finishing college, and jazz impresario and Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein.
At the time, events that presented a variety of music groups on multiple stages at an outdoor location were rare. Their goal was to create such an event that reflected New Orleans, whose music, food and laid-back lifestyle were distinct because they derived from an unusual mix of French, Spanish, African, Native American and other influences.
Wein, the founder of Festival Productions Inc, and Davis, now chief executive of the company, concocted a festival that showcased local jazz, blues, R&B, African, Cajun and zydeco bands. And they surrounded the music with food booths that served up shrimp étouffée, boiled crawfish, oyster po-boys and Creole gumbo.
“Initially, it was like the world’s largest indigenous back-yard barbecue,” Davis said.
“Over time, the festival has become an authentic home to some very rare and deep traditions that only exist in south Louisiana,” he said. “It’s now like Mardi Gras – it’s part of the cultural fabric of New Orleans.”
While the festival presented almost exclusively local talent in the early years, Davis eventually began sprinkling in big-name national acts, this year ranging from Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, the Eagles, Cee Lo Green and the Foo Fighters to Feist, Janelle Monáe and Yolanda Adams. (Reuters)