The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is one of the most important spring events in Louisiana. Up there with Mardi Gras and the French Quarter Festival as one of the city's biggest draws, it brings together Cajun music, gospel, R&B, and more.

    But it's also much more than just a place to hear the tunes of Louisiana. The festival becomes a cultural gathering and a food fest, with jalapeño-infused po'boy subs, jambalaya, gumbo shrimp, and more Creole cooking than you can possibly handle in a weekend.

    A brief history of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

    Now arguably the main date on the calendar for music buffs heading to Crescent City, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival first took place on Congo Square in the early 1970s. By 1972, the event had swelled so much that it relocated to the much-larger New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack in the very heart of town.

    Over the next decade, attendance skyrocketed to 300,000 per year. It's easy to see why – the lineups were, by then, engraved with the names of jazz greats, from Duke Ellington to Fats Domino.

    The centennial anniversary of Louis Armstrong's birth was a big one, with nearly a million people turning up. By the noughties, there were 12 individual stages, countless food outlets, cultural shows, interviews, and a whole load more involved in the festival plans.

    What are the highlights of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival?

    The clue is in the name – the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is all about savouring the musical culture of this exceptionally musical city. Across a dozen or more stages, visitors to the 10-day event will be treated to some of the biggest names in the industry.

    Headliners in recent years have included A-listers like Lizzo and The Who. However, there's also a fantastic contingent of American-grown jazz artists like Keb' Mo' and South Louisiana staples like Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas.

    On top of that comes plenty of room to taste your way through the local kitchen of Louisiana. That's thanks to the no-carnival-food policy. So, instead of the usual fast-food tents, you get fried crawfish, Caribbean curries, rice jambalaya and all sorts of jerk-infused kebab skewers. It's like a hub for sampling the flavours of the Big Easy.

    In addition to all that, the fest is about the human story of the town on the Mississippi. There are craft tents and heritage displays that chronicle the multifarious creeds and religions that form the melting pot of New Orleans, from the Voodoo folk to the Spanish Canary Islanders of the city.

    photo by Nicolas Henderson (CC BY 2.0) modified

    Good to know about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

    The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival takes place once a year, usually in the mid-springtime festival season, between the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. It's hosted at the sprawling New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack in the Fairgrounds area just east of City Park. It should be a cinch to reach, what with I-60, Highway 90, and busy Esplanade Ave running right by.

    photo by Nicolas Henderson (CC BY 2.0) modified

    New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

    Location: 1751 Gentilly Blvd, New Orleans, LA 70119, USA

    Open: Late April to early May

    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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