The French Quarter Festival is one of the world's biggest blowouts of Louisiana music and culture. It draws in around 900,000 revellers each year. They come to shimmy and dance to big band jazz and zydeco before countless stages in the historic heart of New Orleans. The shindig lasts 4 days in all, usually taking place on the 2nd weekend of April, when the weather's good and the vibes are even better.

    photo by Vincent Escudero (CC BY 2.0) modified

    A brief history of the French Quarter Festival

    The French Quarter Festival began life in 1983. The city’s then-mayor, Ernest Nathan Morial, wanted to add an event to the NOLA calendar that would bring locals back to the famous French Quarter after a decade of gentrification and rising rents. With the help of a team of planners, business owners and musicians, the French Quarter Festival was born.

    Its aim was to showcase the crème-de-crème of Louisiana music and food in the enchanting setting of the French Quarter, while reigniting a local passion for that unique neighbourhood. It was originally intended to be a one-off thing. Fast forward 4 decades and it's still going strong. In fact, it's swelled to become one of the biggest parties of the year – and that's saying something in New Orleans.

    What are the highlights of the French Quarter Festival?

    The French Quarter Festival is one of the undisputed highlights of New Orleans' cultural calendar. Natives of the city often say that this one's even better than Mardi Gras. You can judge that for yourself, but get ready for a serious overload of Southern charm, spice-infused food, and more jazz than you can shake a saxophone at.

    The music is the main reason people come. The festival now incorporates around 25 individual stages. They're set up all over the French Quarter, from the riverside on the Mississippi to the narrow lanes behind. Some of the best include the Hilton Stage on Jackson Square – the place to be for uber-cool Afro-Cuban funk – and the gritty Bourbon Street stage – where the honky-tonk vibes spill onto the pavements.

    All that boogying should make you hungry. Thankfully, there's an overload of grub at the French Quarter Festival. Culinary stalls pack the streets around Jackson Square and over to Moonwalk Riverfront Park. They're run by local cooks, so expect everything from tongue-tingling Cajun chicken to po'boy subs and Creole shrimp grits. You won't starve in these parts.

    photo by MusikAnimal (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Good to know about French Quarter Festival

    The French Quarter Festival takes place over a long weekend, usually in the second week of April each year. It now has a regular following of nearly a million attendees, so expect the whole of the neighbourhood to get busy.

    You'll need to book hotels as early as you can if you want somewhere to stay in the thick of the action. Also, remember that the festival often goes on well past its official finish time of 11 pm, so you might want to stay further afield if you value your peace and quiet.

    One of the best things about the French Quarter Festival is that it's 100% free to attend. However, if you really want to make the most of the local bands and bag some free beverages, you can also choose to pay extra for VIP passes.

    French Quarter Festival in New Orleans

    Location: French Quarter, New Orleans, LA, USA

    Open: 2nd weekend of April

    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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