Corey and I attended the New Orléans Jazz and Heritage Festival, one of the city’s most celebrated events. It was so hot outside, we wanted to melt. That’s the kind of weather one would expect in the Big Easy, but when it comes to the festivals, it doesn’t matter. The jazz fest has become a staple in our lives. I’ve been attending for years and always makes sure I’m cool, casual, and cute!
From the very beginning, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was envisioned as an important event that would have great cultural significance and popular appeal. A couple of other festivals were held in the years leading up to the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, but those events, different in format, did not take hold as the Jazz & Heritage Festival would. In 1970, George Wein, jazz impresario, was hired to design and produce a unique festival for New Orleans. Wein’s concept of the Louisiana Heritage Fair—a large daytime fair with multiple stages featuring a wide variety of indigenous music styles, food booths of Louisiana cuisine, and arts and crafts booths, along with an evening concert series—formed a construct that would prove vastly appealing and enduring. In announcing the first Festival, scheduled for April 22 – 26, Wein said, “The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival represents a new and exciting idea in festival presentation. This festival could only be held in New Orleans because here and here alone is the richest musical heritage in America.” Wein hired Quint Davis and Allison Miner, two young, knowledgeable New Orleans music enthusiasts, to work on the event. Davis would quickly become the main creative force behind the Festival, establishing the event as a dynamic annual showcase of Louisiana music with a bold blend of national and international flavors. Davis remains producer and director of the Festival, guiding the event through its entire existence. Miner, who passed away in 1995, would make numerous contributions to the Festival’s evolution, including the creation of the Music Heritage Stage, which has been renamed in her honor.
In the Festival’s inaugural year, only about 350 people attended the Festival, about half the number of musicians and other participants in the event. But the Festival, which became known as “Jazz Fest” almost immediately, was a great artistic success. For the 1972 Festival, the event moved to the infield of the Fair Grounds Race Course, the third-oldest racetrack in America (open since 1872). Jazz Fest would grow quickly over the next few years, constantly expanding its use of the 145-acre site. In 1975, the Festival, still just a five-day event, had an attendance of 80,000. This was also the first year of the Festival’s popular, limited-edition silkscreen poster, now recognized as the most popular poster series in the world. From 1976 to 1978, Jazz Fest expanded to two full weekends of the Heritage Fair. With 12 stages of soul-stirring music—jazz, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, blues, R&B, rock, funk, African, Latin, Caribbean, folk, and much more—the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is firmly established as a singular celebration of both historic and contemporary significance.
For more on the history of the fest and to see this year’s lineup, please click HERE.