written by Kelsey James
Two different weekends and 500+ acts right in the heart of New Orleans is what makes the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival one of the most anticipated festivals of the year in the Big Easy (April 28-30, May 4-7).
For first timers, the “cubes,” aka schedule blocks featuring every single act of Jazz Fest, can be quite overwhelming. There are THIRTEEN different columns with performance cubes beginning at 11:15 AM through 7 PM, a very short time for usual festival goers, but makes sense because the festival is extremely family-oriented. With that being said, the lineup itself features a great balance between large headliners and smaller, local acts. This was done with purpose; producer/director Quint Davis explicitly said that the “release of the 2017 cubes allows festival fans to explore the “forest” beyond the “mighty trees” — i.e. the headliners.”
The stages are separated by genre and various festival sponsors- including the Acura stage (main), Zatarian’s Jazz Tent, Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage, and even a Cultural Exchange Pavilion Celebrating Cuba. The fest features so many unique activities and shows, it will be hard to hone in on one particular thing by the sheer massiveness of the fest. The fest is almost just as known for its food, as it is for the music!
Weekend 1: April 28-30
Friday includes a great kickoff to the special weekend with a lineup that is very particular for those that call New Orleans home: attendees and many acts hail from the Big Easy, so many performances are very personal and/or dedicated around NOLA. Notable headliners include the Trey Anastasio Band, Soul Rebels Rapper NAS w/ special guests, Leon Bridges, and much more. Most acts, besides headliners, are an hour long and provide enough freedom to bounce from stage to stage.
Be prepared to walk, the fairgrounds is huge. Another tip: be prepared for rain!
Saturday is definitely one of the most exciting days of the fest. The much anticipated and super sexual Usher & the Roots is one of THREE massive closers for the 29th. Fans who attended Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival and witnessed Usher & the Roots there proclaimed nothing but awesome things about the unusual combination. Ushers vocals will melt anyone and everyone.
Maroon 5 and Alabama Shakes are the other two headlining closers for the evening, two power-house bands. The diverse genre selection is broad to please any and all. Usher geared towards 80’s-90’s generation…Maroon 5 towards the family-oriented goers… and Alabama Shakes towards the millennials. Truly a beautiful thing to see such different artists together. Throughout the day is various bands, heritage shows, and parades that will are sure to be filled with excitement.
Sunday continues the same vibes as the past two days with diverse lineup selections and fun. Exclusively on the Gentilly stage features only woman performers: New-Orleans based Boyfriend, jazz fest veteran Elle King, and closing out the stage is alternative-pop queen Lorde to name a few. Don’t knock out trying one of the other stages to switch it up: the Gospel tent or the Jazz & Heritage tent. The options are limitless. Closing out weekend 1 is beloved Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Pitbull, George Benson, and others. Can’t say I’ve ever seen Pitbull before…nor am I sure I want to…but might be worth it to check it out!
Weekend 2: May 4-7
Kicking off weekend 2 and getting super jazzy on Thursday is the Loyola University Jazz Ensemble and Southern University Baton Rouge Jazzy Jags (I just really wanted to say Jazzy Jags). The most notable act of “Jam Band Thursday” is the 2.5 hour set that attendees will be blessed with by Widespread Panic. The jam-band is no stranger to insanely long sets and always leave fans satisfied.
Corinne Bailey Rae is also taking the Congo Square Stage and will undoubtedly be spreading butterflies and sunshine at everyone there.
On Friday, May 5th, don’t miss Anders Osborne, earthy rock, Sonny Landreth, guitar king, or The Revivalists, fun alternative rock based out of New Orleans.
Jazz Fest is ending with a bang. The Saturday lineup includes everything from jam (Dumpstaphunk, DON’T MISS – ps Alvin Ford Jr. if you’re seeing this ILY), legendary Stevie Wonder, rapper Snoop Dogg, pop artist Meghan Trainor and more.
I could continue to discuss the Sunday lineup, but I will just drop some Soundcloud links for all you interested and end on this note: these two jam-packed weekends are very, very New Orleans. Old school vs. new school. Explore beyond your normal boundaries and go listen to someone you normally wouldn’t. Stay hydrated, have fun!
Stay tuned for photos from Festival Squad.