New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Photograph by Douglas Mason

April 25–May 4
470 miles from Atlanta

What it is: A horse-racing track hosts this forty-five-year-old music festival, better known as Jazz Fest.
It began as a celebration of Louisiana musicians and now includes folk, rock, rap, country, and gospel acts from around the globe. And don’t go expecting to eat cut-rate “carnival food”—look for gourmet versions of jambalaya, po’boys, and muffuletta.

Why I go: “It’s a special time where families and friends can enjoy music together and discover new music and new artists. My friends’ children have intro­­­duced me to some great acts I never would have thought I’d like. It has a unique Louisiana flavor, from the exceptional food at the fairground to the Second Line parades and the parades of the Mardi Gras Indians.” —Marsha Ward, a contract attorney with Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP who has attended Jazz Fest eighteen years in a row

Favorite memory: “My first Jazz Fest, in 1995, was cold and wet. In spite of the monsoons, my two friends and I huddled together sharing a steaming helping of ‘garlicky oysters,’ a unique Jazz Fest concoction of hot oysters, garlic, and eggplant. We had just survived a bluesy and thunder-filled Keb’ Mo’ performance, and rain was pouring off of the bills of our ball caps and rain gear, but those garlicky oysters were warm and savory,” Ward says.

Insider tip: Savvy regulars set up encampments and mark their territory with tall, elaborately decorated poles—often festooned with ribbons, flags, naked blow-up dolls, flying pigs, and the like—that tower above the throng, allowing friends and family to find them among the more than 600,000 attendees.

Where to stay: The Fair Grounds Race Course is about ten minutes from the French Quarter, where hotels abound.

What not to miss: “There’s nothing like the gospel tent on Sunday morning,” Ward says. “After two days in the sun and two nights of New Orleans cuisine and more late nights of music, the gospel tent is a great first stop on Sunday.”

This article originally appeared in our March 2014 issue.