Jazz Festers looking for a party before the racetrack opens and long after it closes don’t have to leave Mid-City or the Fairground area. From sipping signature Bloody Mary’s at Liuzza’s on the Track — “Jazz Fest headquarters” — to kayaking and dancing, there’s plenty of fun to be had outside the gates.
Best spots for Bloody Mary eye-openers
Some local businesses cater to Jazz Festers who need a little pick-me-up before crowding into the Fairground gates.
It’s better than a flagpole, say the folks over at Liuzza’s on the Track. The corner bar, which is steps away from the gate, opens at 8 a.m. on Jazz Fest days. Folks congregate outside to meet before going inside Jazz Fest, but the bar also hosts one of the best-known local unofficial parties afterward. Popular drinks include a tall Bloody Mary, cold beer and rum punch. For those who need to something to soak up all that beer, the restaurant serves gumbo and BBQ shrimp poboys to go. The dancing doesn’t stop, because brass bands and other musicians can usually be found jamming nearby.
Kayak-iti-Yat, a kayaking tour company based in Mid-City, offers two-hourl Bloody Mary Bayou tours on Jazz Fest mornings.The tours start at 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. For $45, Festers can pregame by sipping a spicy Bloody Mary and learning about the history and culture of Jazz Fest — all while paddling along scenic Bayou St. John.
New Orleanians know that the party only just begins on those Jazz Fest stages. The city becomes a hub for all kinds of music for those two weeks during Jazz Fest as native musicians, big names and special guests fill local stages all around New Orleans, including in Mid-City.
New Orleans City Park kicks Jazz Fest off tonight, April 24, with a free pre-Jazz Fest concert on the outdoor Robert B. Haspel Garden Stage in the New Orleans Botanical Garden. Festivities start at 6:15 p.m. The Landry-Walker High School Chosen Ones Brass Band, Arsene Delay and the 7th Ward Allstars, Creole String Beans and Paul Sanchez & the Rolling Road Show will all perform. There’s a suggested $10 donation, and food will be available for purchase.
Next week, the Garden Party Concerts bring a slew of talent to City Park from April 20 to May 1. The gates open at 6 p.m. and concerts start at 7 p.m. On Tuesday, featured artists include Cyril Neville and Brian J, Devon Aloman, Mike Zito, Mia Borders, Tommy Malone, and Luke Winslow King. A benefit for the Youth Empowered Project will feature Theresa Andersson & Flow Tribe on Wednesday. Royal Southern Brotherhood’s Exile on Royal Street plus Lil Band o’Gold will perform on Thursday night.
The Mid-City music venue Chickie Wah Wah has a stellar lineup every day during Jazz Fest, but the climax of the party is slated for “Local’s Thursday” on May 1. The Jazz Fest after-party, called Krewe de Blender, features the local headliners Rhythm of Valence Street including Zigaboo Modeliste and Cyril Neville with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. Also playing are Papa Mali, Charlie Wooton and Keiko Komaki, and Gravity A with Khris Royal.
Chickie Wah Wah keeps the party going during the other days of the week, too. Jon Cleary and The Absolute Monster Trio perform tomorrow, April 25 at 9 p.m., following Michael Pearce at 6 p.m. Baiana System plays on Saturday, April 26, at midnight, following The Mercy Brothers at 9 p.m. Sunday the venue features the 21st Annual New Orleans Big Blues Harmonica Show with Johnny Sansone, Bruce Sunpie Barnes, Benny Marygarden & Johnny Mastro on Sunday, April 27.
The following weekend, June Yamagishi’s Yakiniku All-Stars will play Friday, May 2 at 11 p.m., following Paul Sanchez with Minimum Rage at 8 p.m. and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey with Special Guests at 5 p.m. Mike Dillon w/ Friends Roosevelt Collier & Doug Belote will play Saturday, May 3 at 10 p.m., followed by Illuminasti w/ James Singleton, Mike Dillon, and Skerik at 8 p.m. and Roosevelt Collier Trio at 5 p.m. For those still standing Sunday, the 21st Annual New Orleans Big Blues Harmonica Show continues, previewed by Chris Smither w/ Special Guest Seth Walker at 8 p.m.
Pearl Wine Company’s one-year anniversary coincides with Jazz Fest this year. Starting Thursday, April 24, PearlFest kicks off with a party at 5 p.m. that offers wine tastings and a free oyster bar with both raw and charbroiled oysters, as well as live music.
On Thursday, April 24, Evan Christopher will lead the PearlFest All-Stars for a free concert at 8 p.m. On Friday, April 25, the wine store will pay tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with a birthday celebration. On Saturday, April 26, Paul Sanchez and Alex McMurray will perform. Vocalist Cindy Scott performs on Sunday, April 27.
The following week, Evan Christopher will perform the music of Django a la Creole on Wednesday, April 30. Joe Cabral will present “Thrio” on Thursday, May 1, and Sarah Gromko Ensemble will perform on Friday, May 2. Brian Seeger features Alex Bosworth & Special Guests on Saturday, May 3, and Don Vappie Trio will perform on Sunday, May 4.
There’s plenty to buy both inside the gates and out. Venues, official and unofficial, take advantage of Jazz Fest to sell merchandise to the hundreds of thousands of people who flock to the festival every year. Below are just some examples of what to find.
The Jazz Fest pop-up event features local designers and crafters, including Tchoup Industries, Invade, Matter, Design for Social Change, Blue Dream Vintage Boutique, DVRA, & Smoke Perfume. Merchandise will be available for sale both Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 630 Elysian Fields. On Fridays, the event starts at 5 p.m. and ends at 10. The sale continues on Saturdays from 3-10 and Sundays from 12-7.
KREWE and Flying Fox are hosting a Jazz Fest Pop Up on both weekends at 3472 Esplanade Avenue from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Food and Drink
Located on Rendon Street, Pal’s Lounge has indoor and outdoor seating and is open late — ideal for Festers looking for cocktails well into the night after Jazz Fest gates close.
A big, greasy burger is available from Bud’s any time of day or night — perfect to enjoy after a long day of drinking and dancing. The City Park Avenue dive burger joint also has fried seafood poboys, milkshakes and chili fries.
Cafe Degas will close for lunch on Thursday and both Fridays during Jazz Fest, but for folks who want a little French Creole tasting before heading to the gates, the bar will be open for drinks and a light menu starting at 11 a.m. Dinner and brunch schedules will go on as usual.
Swirl offers $5 mimosa specials on Jazz Fest weekends as per tradition. Artisan cheese, chocolates and breads will also be available for munching.
With plenty of outdoor seating, Bayou Beer Garden is open after Jazz Fest for locals and visitors to enjoy more fresh air and beautiful weather. The pub has late-night burgers, salads and wings, and features beer from around the world
Toups’ Meatery will perform a food demonstration at Jazz Fest on Saturday, April 26, but the local butchery offers wine, cracklin and other treats every other day during the Fest at its shop on Carrollton Avenue.
Those who didn’t get a poboy fill at Jazz Fest can enjoy signature roast beef or shrimp poboys at Parkway after the Fest. The local bar is bound to be filled with hungry Festers looking for hot sandwiches and cold beers.