After Mardi Gras season is past and springtime is in bloom, the party’s just getting started in south Louisiana, with dozens of festivals that celebrate the music, food and culture of the region running throughout April and May.
From the legendary New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to the rapidly growing Baton Rouge Blues Festival to the eclectic and infectious musical energy of Lafayette’s Festival International in the heart of Cajun country, there’s something for everyone looking to experience a slice of Louisiana culture.
Or, if all-day music festivals aren’t your cup of tea, head over to southwest Louisiana for the long-running Contraband Days Louisiana Pirate Festival. See Jean Lafitte force the mayor to walk the plank into Lake Charles or catch a parade of cannon-firing pirates at this family-friendly May festival.
If you’re not sure where to begin when choosing a spring festival or two, New Orleans is always a good start. There are more than two dozen festivals between March and June in the Big Easy alone.
“Spring in New Orleans is the peak of festival season,” says Kristian Sonnier, vice president of communications at the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a time when locals and visitors join together to celebrate the city’s spirit of hospitality through unique cuisine and live music at fun, outdoor venues that each showcase different elements of New Orleans’ culture.”
Whatever festival route you take, a little preparation can transform your trip into an experience of a lifetime. Read on for tips on how to make the most of your Louisiana festival experience.
Start with a Good Breakfast
All-day festivals can be physically taxing, so make sure you’re equipped to meet that challenge by starting your day with a quality breakfast. Consider kicking things off with a great cup of Community Coffee to get you in the spirit of the day.
The sheer amount of music acts and other attractions at festivals can be overwhelming, so you have to plan ahead to make sure you don’t miss out on your favorites. Luckily, technology makes it easier than ever to organize your experience.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a.k.a. Jazz Fest, offers a mobile app with the complete music lineup and a list of food options, as well as the ability to create your own custom lineup. Lafayette’s Festival International de Louisiane, an international celebration of world music from primarily French-influenced cultures, also has an app with multiple features.
“If you go and favorite what bands you want to see it actually puts a calendar event in your phone so you get your 15-minute reminder so you don’t miss any of the bands you want to see,” says April Courville, marketing director for Festival International.
Be Ready to Eat
Festivals are a magnet for food trucks and other vendors making some unique dishes every bit as memorable as the musicians on stage. Explore the Cuban food booth at Jazz Fest featuring tostones con mojo (fried green plantains with garlic sauce), sample a complete range of Creole and Cajun delicacies, or fill up on classic (and innovative) fried fair foods.
Festival International features a Louisiana Craft Beer Garden, a growing list of international food vendors and more Louisiana dishes than any one person could tackle in a single festival. “You can trip or fall and land on someone serving Cajun food,” Courville says.
Prepare for the Weather
During an all-day outdoor event, even moderate heat can present a challenge to festival-goers. When the late-spring Louisiana is unleashed in May and June, it can be downright dangerous without a few precautions.
Be sure to apply sunblock regularly and wear appropriate clothes that offer protection from the sun (large hats are popular at Jazz Fest, where shade can be in short supply). It’s also a good practice to drink plenty of water and pace yourself if you’re enjoying an adult beverage or two.
But remember that spring in Louisiana can be unpredictable. A cool snap or rain showers are both real possibilities, especially in April, so consider carrying a poncho or umbrella, as well as shoes that work well in the mud.
Look Outside the Festival Gates
The spectacle of these festivals often extends beyond the boundaries of the events themselves. Be on the lookout for connected functions outside the festival gates, often at night. Check the city’s entertainment calendar or the festival’s web page for special happenings or unofficial shows prompted by the main event.
For example, during Jazz Fest the city’s music venues are well-known for hosting amazing small nighttime shows of major artists booked for the festival. In Baton Rouge, Blues Fest holds a special kickoff event the night before the official weekend begins, with a performance by a festival artist that is more intimate than the full-scale event allows.
“That’s what I love as a person who enjoys going to festivals,” says Chris Brooks, a Baton Rouge Blues Fest board member and director of business development at Launch Media. “Sure, the festival is great, but so are the things going on around it.”