Jazz Fest Returns to New Orleans for 2022 : NPR

A freshly painted street mural outside Liuzza’s at the Track in New Orleans on Tuesday, April 26, 2022, celebrates the impending return of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Kevin McGill/AP


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A freshly painted street mural outside Liuzza’s at the Track in New Orleans on Tuesday, April 26, 2022, celebrates the impending return of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Kevin McGill/AP

NEW ORLEANS — Once silenced by the pandemic, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival opens Friday for the first time in three years — a much-anticipated 2022 revival that contains echoes of 2006 when the annual celebration of music and culture continued, even after the Hurricane Katrina.

The two weekend production draws tens of thousands to the city’s Fair Grounds Race Course, where as many as 80 musical acts perform daily on more than a dozen stages, complemented by arts and crafts exhibits and an array of booths selling food from Louisiana and beyond.

Lionel Richie and Death Cab for Cutie are among Friday’s draws. The Who headlines Saturday; the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sunday. But the festival is perhaps best known for showcasing a dizzying array of Louisiana musical talent, styles, and genres — jazz, blues, Cajun, Zydeco, and more.

Organizers held the April 2006 show, eight months after the levees collapsed and the city was submerged during Katrina, while debris and water-damaged homes still marred the landscape. Festival producer Quint Davis recounts two strong emotional memories of that festival: Bruce Springsteen bringing local audiences to tears as he sang “My City of Ruins” to close out the first weekend, and the joy of opening day crowds for the gates were waiting.

“It was just incredible energy, like a pilgrimage,” Davis recalled Tuesday.

2020 marked the first time the festival has been canceled in its 50-year history due to COVID-19. “It was like a sword through the heart,” Davis said, adding that the comeback has been more difficult in some ways than the post-Katrina festival, as the pandemic has led to changes in suppliers, higher costs and complications in collecting supplies. equipment after a three-year rest period.

The 2020 cancellation, plus cancellations of scheduled returns in the spring and fall of 2021, were emotionally devastating for festival organizers and fans, Davis said. And they provided recurring economic shocks to the bars, restaurants and music venues that count on an influx of Jazz Fest visitors.

Quint Davis, the producer of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, discusses the festival’s return as he takes the stage in the festival’s Blues Tent on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. The festival opens Friday for the first time in three years after cancellations in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kevin McGill/AP


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Kevin McGill/AP


Quint Davis, the producer of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, discusses the festival’s return as he takes the stage in the festival’s Blues Tent on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. The festival opens Friday for the first time in three years after cancellations in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kevin McGill/AP

“It’s our two biggest weekends of the year,” said James Gonzci, co-owner of Liuzza’s by the Track, recalling the disappointment. The neighborhood bar and restaurant draws a packed crowd after each festival day.

Robert Mercurio can judge the comeback from two perspectives. As bassist for the funk band Galactic, he credits the party for helping the band build international fame after performing in 1996. As the co-owner of Tipitina’s historic music club, he appreciates the company that brings Jazz Fest to venues for live music as they are back on their feet after pandemic closures.

“I think people who haven’t been to New Orleans for a long time are looking forward to coming to Tipitina’s to get that real New Orleans experience after the party,” Mercurio said Thursday.

Jazz Fest returns as COVID-19 cases are at lower than in months and two-thirds of the U.S. population has been vaccinated. Mask mandates, limits on public gatherings and proof of vaccination have been lifted in New Orleans. Hospital admissions remain low in Louisiana after reaching dangerous peaks in 2020 and 2021.

The Jazz Fest hotel’s occupancy rate has not yet returned to 2019 levels. Kelly Schulz of the New Orleans & Co. tourism organization. said that downtown and French Quarter hotels have project occupancy rates of about 80% so far. Three years ago it was about 90%.

But Schulz points to several signs of recovery, including the return this year of the Mardi Gras season’s parades and parties, the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament, a recent pro golf tournament, NBA playoff games and two major conventions.

Jazzfest, she said, has an estimated $400 million impact on the local economy, similar to when the city hosts the Super Bowl.

“What we’re seeing is the best period as an industry since the start of the pandemic,” Schulz said.

“It makes sense to compare it to 2006,” said Schulz of Jazz Fest’s return. “Because I think that’s how people feel about it, in terms of the return and what it means and how many people have been waiting for this day — especially because people thought we’d have it last year and it was canceled again.”

Mercurio also says that the return of Jazz Fest is reminiscent of 2006 after Katrina. “It feels like an awakening after a very dark time,” he said. “Finally there is a light at the end of the tunnel that we have all been waiting for for so long.”

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