By Monica C. Corcoran, senior photo editor at NationalGeographic.com
I knew I had a problem when a coworker asked how long I’d been going to Jazz Fest and I couldn’t remember if it was 17 … or was it 18 years? It’s my annual pilgrimage to the promised land of lip-smacking food and hip-shaking music, a marathon event that — thankfully for me, and others like me – happens only once a year. But I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Here’s why.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has been celebrating the Big Easy’s food, culture, crafts, and, of course, music since 1970. But don’t be misled — the festival is by no means limited to jazz. You’ll experience a little bit of everything: gospel, rock, blues, zydeco, funk, African, Latin, brass, R&B, you name it.
The festival is contained within the Fair Grounds Race Course (the third oldest racetrack in America), with themed stages linked together by tents where you can buy food, drinks and souvenirs. You can hear dozens of musicians just by making a lap around the course — or find a stop at one of the stages and catch a whole set. The options are endless.
Last Sunday alone, I saw Bruce Springsteen, Ellis Marsalis, Dr. John, Yolanda Adams, Trombone Shorty, Pete Fountain, Al Green, and the Treme Brass Band, along with several other acts. And I’m not even counting the traveling brass bands, second-liners, and Mardi Gras Indians that weave their way among the crowds, carrying people along with their music.
Just try to keep from walk-dancing to the beat. Lucky for festival-goers, keeping yourself fueled and hydrated is an easy task. With hundreds of dishes to choose from, you can’t go wrong, or hungry for that matter. My recent favorites have been the Cochon de Lait poboy washed down with honey-sweetened Rosemint Tea. But my go-to is the Crawfish Monica — think seafood pasta with a secret sauce.
After the last act is over behind the fairground gates, the music doesn’t stop there. A long night of post-fest revelry lies ahead, as festival-goers spill out into the streets to hear more live music at bars and clubs around the city and musicians from all over the world queue up for the late night jam sessions at Le Bon Temps Roule or the Apple Barrel. For a real sense of place, check out the Maple Leaf Bar where the local maestros play until dawn. You never know who will walk in the door.
I just got back from spending the first weekend at Jazz Fest (the 10-day long extravaganza is held in late April and early May each year), and have to admit I’m a little jealous of the people who are just arriving for the second weekend close out. All I can say is make sure to grab a copy of Offbeat magazine — otherwise known as the Jazz Fest Bible — to get the latest information about everything that’s happening around town — and laissez le bon temps rouler!
And if you’re not going this year, check out my Hipstamatic photo gallery and start making your plans for 2013.