The Festival also features a wide variety of vendors selling local foods and crafts. The official food policy of the Festival is "no carnival food" and there are more than seventy food booths with food items including: Mango Freeze, crawfish beignets, cochon de lait sandwiches, alligator sausage po' boy (sandwich), boiled crawfish, softshell crab po'boy, Cajun jambalaya, jalapeño bread, fried green tomatoes, Oyster patties, muffulettas, red beans and rice, and crawfish Monica. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available. All food vendors go through a strict screening process to ensure quality and sanitary food handling practices. In addition, most foods are made with fresh, local ingredients, and are prepared by hand. All food vendors are small, locally owned businesses. There are eight food areas, all with different foods: Food Area I, Food Area II, Congo Square, Heritage Square, Around the Grounds, the Folk Area, the Grandstand, and a Kids' Food section. The food has received rave reviews from The New York Times in the past.
There are also craft booths dispersed throughout the grounds in three areas: the Congo Square African Marketplace, Contemporary Crafts, and the Louisiana Marketplace. The Congo Square African Marketplace contains pieces from local, national, and international artisans, and has the atmosphere of a true marketplace. Many of the artisans utilize ancient crafting techniques. In the Contemporary Crafts area, one can find handmade clothing, leather goods, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, and musical instruments, and visitors can also watch demonstrations of metal, painting, pottery, and fiber works. Lastly, the Louisiana Marketplace contains baskets, hand-colored photographs, jewelry, and landscape-themed art.
One unique aspect of the Festival is the allocation of large areas for dedication to cultural and historical practices unique to Louisiana. These dedications depict many cultures that exist in the state, including both the Cajun culture and the culture of the descendants of native Canary Islanders, the Los Isleños, as well as many others. Some of the areas include the Louisiana Folklife Village, which focuses on state art and culture, the Native American Village, and the Grandstand. Many of the folk demonstrators have been recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts for their work.
In addition, parades are held throughout the duration of the event. They include parades by the Mardi Gras Indians, as well as by marching and brass bands and various social aid and pleasure clubs.
HistoryAcura, one of the two largest stages at Jazz Fest
The Festival has been held annually since 1970, when it was founded by the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association, to form "the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation" that owns the Festival. George Wein's "Festival Productions, Inc" was contracted to produce the Festival. Wein was the producer of the Newport Jazz Festival (1954) and the Newport Folk Festival (1959) in Newport, Rhode Island.
To produce the Festival in New Orleans, Wein put together a key group of artistic advisers, among them Ellis Marsalis, Richard B. "Dick" Allen and Harry Souchon. Dick Allen, the curator of Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archives, recommended Archive employee Allison Miner and intern Quint Davis to Wein to help produce the first festival. Both Miner and Davis knew a great deal about jazz. They went to the black clubs to recruit performers, rather than to Bourbon Street or other tourist destinations, because it was at these clubs that live music was being produced. The first person the pair booked was Snooks Eaglin, who was a street singer at the time, and who performed at the festival every year thereafter. Both volunteered for the "labor of love" that was the festival, and were not compensated. After Wein established the Festival, Miner and Davis oversaw the day-to-day operations of Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans for many years, under the supervision of Wein and the Foundation Board. Quint Davis currently holds the position of CEO of Festival Productions, Inc.- New Orleans, while Miner is largely credited with the founding the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive. AEG Live became a co-producer of the festival in 2004.
The Archive contains recordings from musicians interviewed at the festival, as well as other documents, photographs, and ephemera related to the Festival and the Foundation's holdings, including early WWOZ 90.7-FM recordings. It contains business records, photographs, video and audio recordings, as well as other artifacts. The Archive is open to the public by appointment. the interviewing stage was renamed in her memory as the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage. After Hurricane Katrina, the stage was temporarily merged with the Lagniappe Stage, which is housed in the Grandstand. However, in 2009, it was reinstated as a full stage.Jazz and Heritage Stage at the 2014 Jazz Fest
Prior to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, similar "New Orleans Jazz Festivals" were held by different organizers in the 1960s. The first two New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals in 1970 & 1971 were held in Louis Armstrong Park, then known as Beauregard Square, in the area of the park known to be the historic Congo Square, and in the adjoining New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. The 145-acre New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack began to hold Jazz Fest in 1972. The venue is located at 1751 Gentilly Boulevard, approximately ten minutes from the French Quarter. The New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack is a much larger venue than Congo Square, and was chosen to hold the Festival when organizers realized how successful and popular the event was and could potentially grow to be.
The first Jazz Fest, in Congo Square, cost $3 for admission and was minimally advertised, and had only a Gospel Tent and four open stages, many of which had no microphones. The visiting musicians were housed in Davis' and Miner's homes; there was no money for hotels. The festivities kicked off on Wednesday night, with the Pete Fountain and Clyde Kerr orchestras playing on a midnight steamboat ride.
The first Jazz Fest lineup included artists Mahalia Jackson (who was not booked, but simply heard about the Festival and showed up to sing), The Preservation Hall Band, Duke Ellington, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Clifton Chenier, Fats Domino, The Meters, Snooks, and many others. This first lineup received an audience of only 350 people, but the numbers grew exponentially each year, especially after the introduction of the limited- edition silkscreen poster series in 1975. By the end of the 1980s, attendance peaked at 300, 000 and, in 2001, when Louis Armstrong's centennial was celebrated, 650, 000 people attended.
Over the years, Jazz Fest has been named "Festival of the Year" four times, by Pollstar magazine. The event has also been praised by the likes of Life magazine and The Wall Street Journal.
The love of Jazz Fest has cemented thousands of friendships over the years. Fessheads, Pet de Kat Krewe, Threadheads and other sub-groups reunite annually at the Fair Grounds Race Course where their ritual includes hoisting flags and spirit poles to easily spot each other among the thousands of festival attendees. These sub-groups throw Jazz Fest parties with top musical talent, invites are via word-of-mouth.