Jazz Fest: Past & Present

We all know of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival as a one-of-a-kind hotspot for great music, food, art, and cultural celebration. But do you know just how Jazz Fest came to be?

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation was established in 1970 by the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association as an effort to garner more tourism dollars to the beloved city. Allison Miner and Quint Davis (current producer and director of Jazz Fest) were key figures in finding acts including Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Fats Domino, The Meters, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, The Olympia Brass Band, and the Mardi Gras Indians.

The first festival was held in current day Congo Square, then known as Beauregard Square. The site was picked due to its cultural-historical significance, since it was a place where enslaved African Americans were allowed on Sunday afternoons to sing and dance.

Jazz Fest History Mahaila

The total number of attendees for the first festival in 1970 barely reached 350, fewer than half of the total number of musicians and staff it took to put on the event. Still, the festival was declared as a success. The festival promoters knew the festival would grow and moved to a larger venue, the Fair Grounds Race Course, a 145 acre site.

Jazz Fest saw continued growth in attendance throughout the 1980s. By the end of the decade, over 300,000 people had experienced the magic of Jazz Fest. At the turn of the century, Jazz Fest would reach unprecedented heights. 2001 marked the year of Louis Armstrong’s 100th birthday, and the festival broke records for attendance, with over 650,000 people gathering for the weekend's celebration of music and culture. Jazz Fest also broke the all-time single-day attendance record with more than 160,000 guests each day.

Jazz Fest History Aerial

After Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans in 2005, questions arose whether the town could pull together for another Jazz Fest, but the local community insisted that the tradition should continue. After festival organizers reached out to Royal Dutch Shell (the multinational oil and gas company), they agreed to come on as a major sponsor and helped keep the celebration alive. In the end, the people of NOLA prevailed in their efforts to continue Jazz Fest, and from that point on, it has showed no signs of slowing down.

Over the years, the festival has garnered an impressive roster of both big-name acts and local artists who continue to keep the heritage alive and well. Past rosters have included names like The Neville Brothers, Dr. John, The Radiators, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Better Than Ezra, Bob Dylan, Santana, the Allman Brothers Band, Arethra Franklin, Gladys Knight, Linda Rondstadt, Miles Davis, Paul Simon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson, Harry Connick Jr., and many others.

We can't wait to be back in the beautiful crescent city to film TWO weekends of Jazz Fest April 23rd through 24th AND April 29th through May 1st!

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