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Despite devastation, “Fest” returns

Just a few months ago, New Orleans and many other cities and towns throughout the Mississippi Delta area were ravaged by one of the worst storms ever to hit these shores. Hurricane Katrina tore the roof off of the Superdome and tore the heart out of the nation.

This month, that heart will return and beat even louder as over 350 artists, bands, and performers converge on the Fair Grounds Race Course for what will be the largest and strongest New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival ever!

“It’s certainly one of the most important festivals,” says Louis Edwards, associate producer of the Festival ( “That not only has to do with the size of it, but also the moment in time.”

On the weekends of April 28 – 30 and May 5 – 7, the world will once again turn its attention to New Orleans. This time, however, it will be with gladdened faces, as the annual party known simply as “Fest” sends a musical message that New Orleans may be down but the city’s people and its soul are far from out.

“It marks the hard-earned comeback of the city,” Edwards suggests.

According to Festival Productions CEO George Wein, Fest is a major point of exposure for New Orleans musicians.

“Visitors enjoy the area’s many great artists,” Wein says. “They return home and before you know it, these musicians are getting gigs all around the globe. “

The list of local legends who will perform at Fest is long and lyrical. Everyone from Deacon John to Dr. John, Big Chief Bo Dollis to Fats Domino, as well Cowboy Mouth, Ellis Marsalis, The Meters, Kermit Ruffins, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be on hand to serve up heaping earfuls of the sounds that have made New Orleans a musical Mecca for generations.

“It is overwhelming how our musical family has rallied to our cause,” says producer Quint Davis. “They are all committed to returning to be a part of the renewal of our spirit.”

Adding their support are such visiting dignitaries as Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Dave Matthews, and Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick. From traditional Jazz to Rock and Rap, Fest will have something for everyone.

“A lot of the artists who come from other places may not have that soul connection,” Edwards says, “but they have all played here before and have helped the Festival gain the prominence it has. So it is all good!”

In addition to the “all good” music, Fest also offers scores of local artists who work in all manner of media to create Folk, African, and Contemporary art.

“The Festival is a celebration of Louisiana culture,” Edwards explains. “We want to let people know that New Orleans is back and that the culture is back and that they can come have a great time in a great city.”

As Louisiana culture is so tied in with food, over 100 varieties of local and international cuisine will be available, turning the Fair Grounds into the fare grounds.

“Almost all of the vendors who were here last year are coming back,” Edwards says, “and that is a thrill for us and for the fans!”

With all this entertainment it is hard to believe that tickets to Fest are only $40 ($30 if purchased ahead of time)! For those who wish to make their Fest experience extra special, Big Chief VIP packages offer admission, program guides, access to special viewing areas (most of which offer their own private Southern “comfort stations”), and, perhaps most importantly, access to an air-conditioned lounge with its own restrooms.

“Some people like to go from stage to stage getting all the variety from Cajun and Zydeco to Gospel to Blues to Rock and Roll,” Edwards observes. “Other folks know exactly what they want to see. They wait all year for this and they love every minute of it!”

No matter how much you plan, however, ain’t nothin’ like the real thing.

“Until you walk out on the field and hear all that music and all those sights and smells and the rhythms melting around you, there is really no way to explain it,” Edwards says. “You just have to experience it.”