One of the largest FREE festivals in the country - French Quarter Fest - kicked off yesterday. Now in its 35th year, the annual event, known as the highly anticipated “kickoff the festival season” in New Orleans, brings food from dozens of New Orleans’ favorite restaurants, music from 300 acts on 23 stages, and over a dozen special events to the French Quarter and on the Mississippi Riverfront.
Over the course of four days (April 11-14, 2018), thousands will gather in the French Quarter to celebrate the unique and vibrant culture of New Orleans' most famous neighborhood. French Quarter Festival was first produced in 1984 as a way to bring residents back to the Quarter; following the World’s Fair and extensive sidewalk repairs in the French Quarter. Did we mention admission to French Quarter Fest is completely FREE and open to the public?
French Quarter Festival is huge and stages are located all throughout the French Quarter - from Woldenberg Park, in Jackson Square, at the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Mint There’s a map and an app at frenchquarterfest.org.
Twenty-three stages will be placed throughout the French Quarter, featuring over 1,700 Louisiana musicians and more than 170 Louisiana acts. Genres will include anything and everything: traditional and contemporary jazz, rhythm and blues, Cajun and zydeco, New Orleans funk, classical, swing, rock, and international sounds. The 300 musical acts at FQF are purely Louisiana-grown, from bounce to zydeco.
The 2018 festival includes more than 30 debuts including singer/songwriter Amanda Ducorbier; Chocolate Milk – the New Orleans funk band that worked with Allen Toussaint, played backup on dozens of notable sessions, and released eight major-label albums; Zydeco-sensation Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble; and Cajun advocate, writer, and acclaimed musician Zachary Richard.
Returning favorites include Cyril Neville, whose Swamp Funk is among the debuts, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Irma Thomas, Jon Cleary, Little Freddie King, recent Grammy-winners Lost Bayou Ramblers, and hundreds more!
Other special events include Let Them Talk, the annual lecture series featuring Louisiana musicians, providing a rare chance to hear artists speak about their life in music as well as take the opportunity to honor those artists who have passed. FQF Film Fest takes place at Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré- one of the oldest community theatres in the country - and features films about Louisiana and its musicians. At the Children’s Headquarters, attendees can expect two full days of family-fun in the Chevron STEAM Zone. The engaging, educational activities feature a number of New Orleans organizations such Audubon Nature Institute and the National WWII Museum.
What to bring
Only bring the essentials in a light day bag - sunscreen, a hat, a folding chair or blanket. It's going to be a sunny weekend with temperatures reaching the low 80's so be sure to wear loose, comfortable clothing. Bring your dancing shoes! Make sure they're comfortable though as French Quarter Fest is spread out, so you’ll be walking and standing for long stretches. Since it will be sunny and warm, be sure to hydrate!
Although admission to the festival is free, be sure to bring some cash for festival food and drinks (ATMs will be located throughout the French Quarter).
Getting to French Quarter Festival is easy, but parking can challenging. Arrive early to park in these lots located in the heart of the festival: French Market, 500 Decatur Street, 300 North Peters Street, 211 Conti Street, Canal Place and various locations within walking distance. Or take public transportation down to the Quarter to avoid the hassle of parking.
Walking is the best way to get around FQF. The French Quarter turns into a pedestrian mall for FQF, so it will be impossible to get a cab or an Uber. Pedicabs will be available if you're looking or a quick way to get from one side of the Quarter to the other.
It's best to have a plan to ensure that you will be able to see as much as possible. We recommend starting in Jackson Square to take in some traditional New Orleans jazz and food! Walking through the festival, you will hear music at almost every corner. Stop and take in some of the acts on the smaller stages - you will not be disappointed!
What to eat and drink
French Quarter Fest might be known for the music, but it is just as much as food festival! There will be more than 60 food vendors on site serving some of the best, most mouth-watering New Orleans cuisine. Check out the full list of food vendors here.
Be sure to indulge in traditional New Orleans staples like fried seafood, cochon de lait po-boys, jambalaya, meat pies, snoballs, and Pat O'Brien's Hurricanes! Prices will range from $3-$11. Outside food and beverages are not allowed at festival venues.