Swag's Jazzfest FAQ - At The Fest


How many stages are there?

There are 5 large stages located within the racetrack infield.  The Fesstival stage, located at one end of the racetrack oval, is the biggest, and this is where the biggest name acts perform.  Next largest, at the other end of the oval, is the Gentilly Stage.  This stage, like the Acura, gets a variety of styles of music. The Fais Do Do stage acts are mostly South Louisiana music, like Cajun and Zydeco, plus some bluegrass, country, and folk.  The Congo Square stage gets a variety, but many performers here seem to be African or Caribbean influenced; R&B, soul, rap and hip hop bands play here as well. The Jazz and Heritage stage (a Swag favorite) features brass bands and Mardi Gras indians.

The audience area at each of these stages is basically just a big open field, a mix of grass and dirt.   Many folks bring chairs. Or spread out a blanket if you brought one, or just plop on the ground.  Or better yet, get up and dance.  There are bleachers at the track-side of Congo, and small metal bleachers at the side of Fais Do Do. Seating here is available to all and first-come, first-served. The other outdoor stages have no fest-provided seating.

There are also 5 tents that have stages in them. The Jazz tent, the Gospel tent, the Blues tent, and the Kids tent are self-explanatory. In the Economy Hall tent, you'll hear traditional jazz, ragtime and Dixieland, straight out of New Orleans in the first half of the 20th century.  Unlike the big stages, the tents are covered from the sun, and are filled with aisles of folding chairs, auditorium style.  The Jazz, Gospel and Blues tents are on concrete. Economy Hall and the Kids tent are on dirt, and may get muddy inside if it's been raining.  The tents will seat from several hundred to a few thousand, but do fill up for popular acts.

In the middle of the infield is a much smaller tent that hosts the Cultural Exchange Pavilion. Each year the festival showcases music from another country or region, and you can find those bands in the pavilion. The smallest performance stage is the Rhythmporium, a small tent that hosts singer-songwriter and other acoustic-style performances. A couple of hundred people would pack either of these spaces. Both of these tents are standing room only, no chairs allowed.

The Lagniappe stage is through the grandstand, in a courtyard on the ground floor.   Since it's somewhat hidden, and isolated from the other stages, it is sometimes less crowded.  There are folding chairs, and even some shade tents there.

Upstairs inside the Grandstand is the Alison Miner Music Heritage Stage, which hosts interviews with selected performers (and occasionally, intimate acoustic performances).

The grandstand building also hosts cooking demos at the Food Heritage Stage.

How many acts perform at one time?

It varies, since the sets are at staggered times, but of the 12 stages and tents (not counting the Kids tent or Interview stage), usually 8 to 10 will have someone playing.

How long is each set?

Usually between 50 and 75 minutes.  Occasionally longer, perhaps an hour and a half up to two hours for the headliners.  You'll notice that everyone sticks to the printed schedule pretty tightly, and will be off the stage within a minute or two the scheduled end time, no matter how loud the screams are for another encore.  With a 20 or 30 minute change-over time until the next performer comes on, that lets them keep the schedule from falling behind.


Daily Preparation

What is the weather usually like?

Expect afternoon high's in the low 80's; hotter in the sun, of course.  Humid and muggy.  Click here for late April or here for early May averages and record temperatures.  Occasional brief showers, with more rain occasionally.  The fest is "rain or shine", with cancelled days about once a decade.

What should I wear?

Think cool and comfortable.  Shorts and a t-shirt are the norm.  Many ladies wear bikini tops, a practice that I wholeheartedly encourage. 

Want to look really cool?  Available now:

Other excellent choices for t-shirts would include shirts from other music Festivals or your favorite local music club.  Both make great conversation starters.   Shirts from artists who are performing at Fest, or souvenir shirts from past year's Fests are also fine.  Some folks advise against wearing the current year's Fest shirt (makes you look like a rookie), unless you run out of clean clothes, of course.

Expect to do lots of walking and standing, so comfortable shoes are a must.  My personal preference is sandals, which keep the feet cool and are easily kicked off when the music gets me dancing in the grass.

Sunscreen is also a must, and I recommend a hat as well.  If you forget, straw hats are available in the booths around the Congo Square stage for $10-15.

What should I bring?

Most mportant is comfortable shoesHowever much walking you expect to to, you will do more. 

Cash used to be near the top of my list, but Jazzfest is now cashless. All purchases - food and drink, crafts, souvenirs, and tickets at the gate - require a credit or debit card. If you don't have one, or don't want to use one, you can buy a prepaid debit card using cash at several stations inside the festival, then use the card for your purchases. Any leftover balance can be spent outside the festival, wherever Visa is accepted.

They do allow you to bring in factory-sealed bottle of water in quantities "for personal use", which means a few bottles is fine, but they may not let you cart in multiple cases.  Keep it sealed until you get inside.  No other outside beverages will be allowed.

Bring sunglasses and extra sunscreen.  Bring a camera if you like.  Digital cameras are fine. Videocameras are not allowed. If your digital camera can shoot video, it will probably get in. What it looks like really matters more than what it can actually do - the folks working security at the gate are not technology experts.

If you plan to spend most of your time at one stage, or if you're part of a big group, consider bringing a blanket or tarp to sit on.   Otherwise, don't bother - it won't be worth the hassle of dragging it around.  Lawn chairs are okay too (no side tables or footrests).

See the list of what is allowed (and what isn't) here (pdf file).

Hear an audio recording of the at-the-gate prohibitions.

One note for those of you with kids, special dietary restrictions, or a nearly empty wallet:  outside food (but not beverage) for personal consumption is allowed, according to Fest officials. 


The "Vibe"


It's not too intrusive.  No pat downs. They'll do a quick glace through any bags you are carrying, but small stuff is usually missed.  Just don't bring anything you can't afford to part with.  If they find you carrying your great-grandfather's sterling silver flask, it's a long trip back to the car or hotel to drop it off.


It's about the same as any outdoor rock concert.  Some folks smoke.  Though I've heard a few stories, I've never personally seen anyone hassled, but again, use common sense.  Keep it in the crowd, away from the walkways, the food and drink booths, and other folk's kids. There's no smoking of anything allowed in the Tents.

How about dealing with the crowds?

Yes, it will be crowded.  Everyone is there for the same reason as you, to have a good time.  If the crowds get too thick during a performance, just move back.   You can hear the bands at the big stages (Acura and Gentilly) fine, even from the far end of the lawn.

If you want to get from Acura to Gentilly (or vice versa), you can beat the crowds and save lots of time by walking along the racetrack oval, instead of through the middle of everything.

And remember, treat folks the way you'd like to be treated.  It's the golden rule that your Momma taught you.  And it works.  Karma seems to have a way of running very heavy at Jazzfest.

What's Your Take on the Great Chair Debate?

As crowds have grown in recent years, there's some friction on discussion groups, and at the Fest, between two groups of festers.  In one camp (no pun intended), there are folks who arrive early, stake out a bunch of space with blankets and walls of chairs, and get annoyed when latecomers walk through/over their space.  In the other camp, the are the latecomers and the roamers, who try to pass through and are annoyed by the large obstacles in their way.

My opinion: Chairs don't block people, people block people.  I don't begrudge anyone their right to bring a chair for health or comfort reasons.  Nor is there anything wrong with staking out a reasonable amount of space.  But remember, the Fairgrounds is ultimately all shared space.  And remember, you're gonna have to pee sometime too, and that means trekking back over or around others camps.   So, common courtesy...
- If you can, walk around that blanket, instead of over it.
- When the crowd is so thick that you have to cross through someone's space, say "excuse me" as you do.  Don't underestimate the power of a friendly smile.
- When you set up camp, try to leave a foot or two walkway between you and your neighbors.
- If you stake out blanket and chair space near the front for a group of 30, don't be astonished when folks need to cross it.
- If someone needs to pass through "your" space, let them by and give 'em a smile.  They'll be out of your way soon enough.

It's that Golden Rule thing again.


Other Tips

Should I bring the kids?

Depends on the kids and their ages. You know your kids better than anyone else.  I personally wouldn't recommend bringing most kids younger than about 4, but older than that, sure. You know better than anyone if your kids will enjoy the Festival atmosphere, dancing, and music; or if they'll get instantly cranky from the crowds, the heat, and the walking.

If you do bring them, you might consider coming later or leaving earlier - 8 hours might be a little much for the little ones.

If you bring an infant or toddler, please bring some good headphones to protect their ears. Some parents I know highly recommend Peltor Kid's Ear Muffs.

By the way, as a childless festgoer, I love seeing kids there. They often seem to dance with so much enthusiasm, and it's good to build an appreciation of music and the fest in the next generation.

Any other hints?

The first thing your group should do once you get in to the Festival should be to decide a meeting place and times, since even if you try to stay together, it's easy to get separated.  Once that happens, it's a lot easier to enjoy the Fest without stressing, if you know that you can hook up with your group, for example, at 3:00 or 7:15 at the Flagpole.

Cell phones are a great way to find your buddies, but don't count on them without having a backup plan.  At times, you may have trouble getting a cell.  Batteries die. And you may not know it's ringing unless you have it set to vibrate. It may be easier to send text messages, plus there are no worries about having to shout to be heard.

What are some good meeting places, then?

A good meeting place should be accessible, relatively centralized, and someplace you won't mind hanging out for a bit, while you wait.  Some examples:

Some poor choices for meeting places:

Can I buy CD's there?  Are autographs available?

There's a store at the Festival that sells CD's by the Fest performers. Selected performers are available for autographs, usually following their sets; a schedule will be posted outside the store.  One comment though.   If you want CD's by any local artists, consider a visit to the Louisiana Music Factory instead.  It's an independent store, centrally located at the foot of Frenchmen St, just outside the French Quarter.  They have great selection, and you'll be supporting the local music scene, instead of giving your dollars to a big national chain.  Check my link list for a LMF discount coupon.


Page last updated May 10, 2023