French Quarter Festival unites locals for weekend of free music

Taylor DeMulling, Associate Arcade Editor

1,700 local musicians, 60 food vendors and 23 stages equal one huge festival. The largest free music festival in the South, in fact. The 33rd Annual French Quarter Festival runs Thursday through Sunday, taking place — you guessed it — at various locations in the French Quarter.

If “The World’s Largest Jazz Brunch” appeals to you, French Quarter Festival may just be worth the visit. New Orleans classics like Antoine’s, K-Paul’s, Jacques-Imo’s, Muriel’s, Court of Two Sisters and more will be available to festival-goers. There will be vendor stations set up at Louisiana State Museum’s Old U.S. Mint, Jackson Square, Spanish Plaza and other locations around the city.

There are also 23 stages set up around the French Quarter, from Spanish Plaza to the House of Blues Stage in the Voodoo Garden. Only one of the stages will feature international acts, ensuring that the majority of the performances are exclusively from local musicians.

The most impressive aspect of the festival is not its sheer size, but its dedication to the community it hopes to celebrate. From the food vendors to the musicians, to the crew who puts it all together, the people involved are Louisiana residents.

“It is a true community festival,” said Rebecca Sell, marketing and publicity manager for French Quarter Festivals Inc. “Even our musicians are sponsored by local businesses, we pair them. Over a hundred local businesses get involved to show support to the musicians’ community involved through the festival.”

The festival doesn’t just strive to involve the community, it pushes every year to bring in new vendors and musicians, to broaden the scope of the festival and more fully represent New Orleans. This year, 24 musicians new to the festival, including Cowboy Mouth, Sonny Landreth, Buckwheat Zydeco and Jean Knight, will debut. There will also be 12 new food vendors.

“It’s hard, because, after 33 years, we really have to work hard to keep it fresh,” Sell said. “So, the biggest news is that we have 24 new special debuts, so we try to bring, not necessarily young or new talent, but artists who have never played the festival before.”

The festival strives to attract both local and out-of-town interest, but offers options to streamline the process of getting to the festival for New Orleans residents. This year, the festival will bring back the “Easy Rider” shuttle, which offers transportation between the Sheraton Hotel and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, included in the price of parking. There will also be free valet bike parking throughout the city Friday to Sunday.

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