POSTED Wed. Apr 8, 2015

Events

French Quarter Fest is the Best

French Quarter Festival is a sprawling, four-day event (Apr 9th-12th) that takes over downtown New Orleans in the best way you can imagine. With twenty-three stages showcasing live music across the Quarter throughout the weekend, the free event gives locals and tourists no shortage of entertainment options. Obviously there’s music — jazz, cajun, zydeco, blues, rock, folk, pop, and much more — but this year, festival producers have made several additions to the program.

“When an event is successful, it grows,” said Marci Schramm, Executive Director of French Quarter Festival. “The challenge becomes managing that growth.” The fun part of that management has to do with expanding festival offerings in terms of booking musicians and planning other entertainment.

Of course, the big news this year music-wise is the return of Allen Toussaint, who hasn’t played FQF since 1998. The highly influential New Orleans musician has been a long-time legend in town, but has garnered more national recognition in recent years. He released the beautiful, grammy-nominated collaborative album The River In Reverse with Elvis Costello almost a decade ago, and received the National Medal of Arts in 2013 from President Barack Obama. Mr. Toussaint is sure to draw a lively, energetic crowd at the Abita Beer Stage alongside the Mississippi River.

But beyond filling the festival lineup with premiere talent, FQF organizers have also tweaked the way the festival handles parking and transportation. Crowds swell all over downtown throughout the weekend. But this year, instead of offering their usual free shuttle, FQF has teamed with the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority to ensure that buses and streetcars increase their frequency, helping festival-goers from all across the city move about town with ease.

Beyond that, FQF is offering increased bike parking (with the help of nonprofit BikeEasy), increased ferry hours from the West Bank, and a new designated driver service for intoxicated visitors.

“We’re hoping the changes will make the festival even more accessible,” said Ms. Schramm.

Other facets of FQF festival include a free film festival at La Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, presented by TimeCode NOLA. Films screen Friday to Sunday, and range from documentaries on Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint, to rare Preservation Hall Music videos from years past.

Several new food vendors will be selling tasty dishes at the festival as well, including Patois, Squeal, and Rue 127. Ms. Schramm is particularly excited about spirited snoballs from several Plum Street Snowball stands around the French Quarter. “You have to try the Southern Comfort Caramel Snoball,” said Ms. Schramm.

FQF also added two new stages this year. The first is at Spanish Plaza near the Riverwalk Marketplace, and the second is The Omni Royal Orleans Stage, located at Royal and St. Louis Street. Both stages will have music Saturday and Sunday.

Another popular, returning element of FQF is “Let Them Talk: Conversations on Louisiana Music,” held on the third floor of the Old U.S. Mint. This year’s highlights include a talk with the much buzzed-about, recently formed New Orleans group The Write Brothers (Saturday at 11:30am), and a salute to Big Chief Bo Dollis (Saturday at 2:30pm), which includes a conversation between music writer Alison Fensterstock and several of Big Chief Bo Dollis’ family members.

It’s worth mentioning again that French Quarter Festival is free, and many of the food vendors keep their prices around the $8 mark. No other festival celebrates a variety of Louisiana music like FQF, and few events, especially free ones, can match the scope and spectacle of twenty-three stages spread across the Historic French Quarter.

Here’s a brief rundown of some more musical picks:

Thursday, April 9th
Allen Toussaint (3:45pm @ Abita Beer Stage)

Doug Kershaw and Steve Riley (5:30pm @ Tropical Isle Hand Grenade Stage)

Friday, April 10th
Doghill Stompers (2pm @ Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase)

The Write Brothers (2pm @ Tropical Isle Hand Grenade Stage)

Tank and the Bangas (5:45pm @ Tropical Isle Hand Grenade Stage)

Saturday, April 11th
Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr. & The Wild Magnolias (5:25pm @ Abita Beer Stage)

Sunday, April 12th
Cardinal Sons (1:30pm @ BMI Songwriter Stage at the Historic New Orleans Collection

Alexis and the Samurai (4:30pm @ BMI Songwriter Stage at the Historic New Orleans Collection)

For a full schedule of musical performances, check out the FQF website.

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