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New Orleans Festival Guide

Known for its food, music, and culture, New Orleans invites visitors to partake in its many festivals throughout the year! Come celebrate our lagniappe.

To many people, New Orleans is considered the “Festival Capital of the World.” And with such a rich history of music, food, and culture–plus the fantastic year-round weather–it is easy to see why. There are approximately 130 festivals in New Orleans each year, which equates to roughly one festival every three days. Not surprisingly, New Orleans was deemed “Best City in America for festivals” by Travel + Leisure.

Powered by the local festival season (April, May, June), there are dozens of festivals spread throughout the year in the New Orleans area. From world-renowned events such as Jazz Fest to local neighborhood celebrations like Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo, New Orleans has a festival for all ages and everyone's taste. And because it is New Orleans, every festival–no matter its theme–has a little bit of the city's world-famous music, food, and culture sprinkled in.   

New Orleans attracted 9.52 million visitors in 2014, a number that was up over 2.5% from 2013. Of that number, 25% were festival attendees. The visitors make a $960,000,000 economic impact, spending money on entertainment, shopping, food, drinks, and hotel stays during that time. And it should come as no surprise that the largest portion of these visitors came to the city during the second quarter, right in the heart of festival season. By looking at just the attendance figures for the main local festivals, it can be estimated that upwards of three million people attended festivals in New Orleans last year.

And for those who did attend the city's top music festivals (Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest, Essence Fest, Voodoo Experience, and Satchmo SummerFest), they were treated to 1,332 hours of music. That's 55 ½ days of continuous listening, but New Orleans is able to accomplish that feat in just 20 festival days.

Spring Festivals

In March, spring in New Orleans comes alive with an array of festivals. The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival hosts over 100 guest speakers, numerous theater performances, and the crowd-favorite Stella! Yelling Contest inspired by Williams' New Orleans-set play, A Streetcar Named Desire. With 90 competing teams, Hogs for the Cause attempts to prove, once and for all, who cooks the best pig in New Orleans, all while raising money for youth cancer charities. And finally, the Louisiana Oyster Jubilee annually constructs the world's longest oyster po-boy, which stretches over one French Quarter block (approximately 340 feet) and uses 5,500 Louisiana-harvested oysters. March also hosts the Congo Square New Worlds Rhythm Festival, Buku Music & Art Project, the Italian Heritage Festival, and the New Orleans International Beer Festival.

April is perhaps the city's biggest month, as it hosts the two largest festivals of the year–the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and French Quarter Festival. With over one million combined attendees, these two festivals are truly a celebration of all that is New Orleans. Whereas Jazz Fest is packed with international superstar musicians, French Quarter Fest is geared more towards local acts and is billed as the largest free festival in the United States.

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Presented by Shell

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was first established in 1970 and pulled a crowd of 350 attendees. In 2014, the festival saw 435,000 attendees, generating an annual economic impact of over $300 million. The fest is about more than just music, though. The food is served in true NOLA fashion. The fest served up 8,000 pounds of Crawfish Monica in 2014.

French Quarter Festival

With over 733,000 attendees in 2014, French Quarter festival is the largest free music festival in the United States. One thousand, seven-hundred world-class Louisiana musicians entertain audiences with over 472 hours of music!

Spring is full of a number of other festivals. Freret Street Fest is one of the city's most popular and fastest growing neighborhood festivals. With May comes not only the concluding weekend of Jazz Fest, but also one of the busiest months of the festival calendar, with multiple events every weekend. As one of the city's largest food- and beverage-based festivals, the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience brings together over two dozen local restaurants and 73 chefs to showcase their finest and tastiest. The New Orleans Oyster Festival hosts both the Oyster Shucking (18 in two minutes) and Eating (24 dozen in eight minutes) contests. Also, Chaz Fest offers a locals-only alternative to the national headliners of Jazz Fest, Greek Fest is celebrated on Bayou St. John at the oldest Greek Orthodox church in the Americas (est. 1864), and Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo celebrates New Orleans culture and art in one of the city's most beloved neighborhoods.

Summer Festivals

As the summer begins, the New Orleans area festival calendar is just settling into its groove. Two uniquely southern food festivals dominate June. First, the French Market Creole Tomato Festival is held in the nation's oldest marketplace. Second, the Louisiana Catfish Festival takes place just southwest of the city in Des Allemands, LA, which was named the “Catfish Capital of the World” in 1975 (and later, “of the Universe” in 1980). The Louisiana Cajun Zydeco Festival celebrates the two most unique genres of music from southern Louisiana–the European immigrant-influenced Cajun and its hybrid offshoot, Zydeco. Also this month, visitors from across the country come to New Orleans for the New Orleans Pride Festival and Festigals, a female-empowering getaway.

ESSENCE Festival

Not even the sweltering heat of a Louisiana summer can slow down the onslaught of fun festivals. In July, ESSENCE Festival, the city's second major music festival, brings over 30 performers and 400,000 attendees for a combined total of over 53 hours of music. Essence fest is the largest event in the United States celebrating African American culture and music and the #1 premier R&B festival! Free empowerment seminars and enrichment programming is also available to those who attend.

Satchmo Summer Fest

And it wouldn't be New Orleans without a tribute festival honoring the most famous of all local musicians–Louis Armstrong. Though a fairly new free event, Satchmo SummerFest is rapidly growing, which is no surprise given Armstrong's popularity locally and beyond.

San Fermin en Nueva Orleans

And like its namesake/influence in Spain, San Fermin en Nueva Orleans annually presents the spectacle of the “Running of the Bulls.” Only, in New Orleans, it is 14,000 runners being chased by 400 roller-bulls (roller derby girls dressed as bulls and armed with plastic bats) through the streets of downtown New Orleans.

It just wouldn't be July without a few thousand fireworks to celebrate our nation's Independence Day. At Go 4th on the River, a pair of dueling barges sets off over 3,000 fireworks high above the Mississippi River for the entire city to see. Don't forget the New Orleans Daiquiri Festival this month either!

In August, New Orleans festival-goers attempt to beat the heat in a number of ways–most notably by wearing white linen and red dresses.

Whitney White Linen Night

Whitney White Linen is an annual art walk stretching over four blocks in the Warehouse Arts District. With 45,000 attendees in 2014, it would take over 140 gallons of laundry detergent just to clean everyone's outfits. But don't wash your outfit too quickly. The next weekend is Dirty Linen Night, an art walk down Royal Street in the French Quarter.

Yet another outfit-themed festival this month is the Red Dress Run, an approximately two-mile race/bar crawl with all proceeds going to charity. The only requirement? You guessed it–wearing a red dress (both men and women)! If you lined up all the red dresses worn that day end-to-end, it would almost double the actual distance of the route! Also in August is the month-long celebration of New Orleans restaurants dubbed COOLinary New Orleans.

Tales of The Cocktail

This event is the one and only festival dedicated to cocktails. The true cocktail enthusiast can enjoy five full days of seminars, tastings, networking, and more! Tales of the Cocktail's 70 bartenders will be serving up roughly 10,000 lemons and 21,000 limes.

In September, during Labor Day weekend, Southern Decadence is the largest gay event in the South, with over 160,000 participants. Festivities are centered on the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann streets. The New Orleans Burlesque Festival honors the legacy and recent re-emergence of traditional burlesque performance with all its glamor, music, humor, and excitement. Also, New Orleans on Tap brings together over 300 local, national, and homebrewed beers to benefit the LSPCA.

Fall Festivals

Before it turns cold (or at least as “cold” as New Orleans gets), October's crowded schedule ushers in the beginning of the end of the city's festival year.

Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, the city's third major music festival, welcomes a mixture of national and local acts with 85 hours of music spread out over the three-day Halloween weekend. Mirroring the growth of Louisiana's film production industry, the New Orleans Film Festival is the fastest growing film festival in the U.S. The fest has expanded exponentially in recent years, now hosting over 200 films and 25,000 attendees.

Also this month: the Louisiana Seafood Festival, displaying all the amazing local seafood Sportsman's Paradise has to offer; Art for Art's Sake, a city-wide art and museum celebration; Oktoberfest, New Orleans' own twist on the classic German festival held in Kenner at Deutsches Haus; and Hell Yes Fest!, a 10-day comedy fest that spotlights 100+ comedians and the city's growing comedy scene. October also plays host to the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival, Gretna Heritage Festival, New Orleans Book Festival, and Japan Fest.

November celebrates two of the most famous New Orleans food staples with the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival and the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival. The po-boy has exploded in the past few years, stretching the limits of its uptown location and its attendee's waistbands. At both festivals, local vendors vie for the top place in a series of “Best Of” categories. Also celebrating food this month: Chefs Emeril Lagasse and Donald Link's Boudin, Bourbon, and Beer fundraiser, and the Bywater Mirliton Festival, which honors its pear-shaped, vegetable namesake, also known as a chayote. Outside of food, Fringe Fest honors fearless performers with over 80 theater shows spread out all across the city; the Louisiana Renaissance Festival transforms Hammond, LA, just northwest of the city, into a 17th-century English village for a month; and two neighborhood festivals–the 2nd District Blues Fest and New Orleans Irish Channel Fest–round out the busy month.

Christmas Festivals

Like the rest of the world, December is dominated by Christmas. But like every major holiday, New Orleans does things a little differently. The city's main yuletide attraction is Celebration in the Oaks, a month-long holiday lights festival in City Park. With 6.2 miles of rope lights spread across 25,000 acres of City Park, this is truly one of the most spectacular holiday light festivals in the country. And on Christmas Eve, Louisiana lights up the way for Papa Noël with 100 Bonfires on the Levee, most of which are more than 30-foot high pyramids of burning logs. The bonfires stretch 12 miles on either side of the levee–truly a sight to behold during the holiday season!

New Orleans also celebrates the holiday spirit with Caroling in Jackson square, a family tradition lit by 10,000 candles. Across the city, locals and visitors can enjoy Reveillon dinners, four-course feasts that honor the city's Creole traditions. Additionally, St. Louis Cathedral offers free nightly gospel jazz concerts.

To learn more about New Orleans festivals, explore the full festival calendar on neworleansonline.com!

 

 
 

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