French Quarter Festival to showcase New Orleans culture

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Ben Shooter, Staff Reporter

Mardi Gras may be over, but this weekend the French Quarter Festival will bring the party back to the Big Easy. Running Thursday through Sunday, tourists and locals alike will congregate around 12 stages in the iconic French Quarter to listen to dozens of the city’s most celebrated artists.

Festival representative Rebecca Sell said this year’s audience ought to expect a vast variety of performances.

“We have two new stages, and that brings our musician total to 1,700 local musicians. It’s the largest showcase of Louisiana music in the world,” Sell said. “We have almost every genre represented.”

During the course of the festival, crowds will have the opportunity to hear sets from some of the most famous artists who have contributed to New Orleans’ music history. Grammy-winning soul singer Irma Thomas, jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis and rhythm and blues icon Allen Toussaint will all perform.

A number of the festival’s performers, however, are younger, emerging local artists, such as funk band Flow Tribe and percussive alternative-rock group Sweet Crude. 

“We’re known for nurturing the young talent, so we always try to bring in new musicians,” Sell said. “We have a total of over 12 festival debuts this year.”

The festival’s support of young artists extends far indeed. Students at The Roots of Music, a New Orleans organization that supports youth music education in the city, will be taking the Abita stage 11 a.m. Saturday. 

While the students are perhaps the youngest of the festival’s performers, they are anything but inexperienced — many of them have performed at the festival before, and just this year they marched in several Mardi Gras parades.

“This is a major lesson in how to perform in front of an audience,” Sophie Gavin, The Roots of Music program co-organizer, said. “The program is great because it gives us lots of exposure, and every year it gives us some new loving supporters.”

While the French Quarter Festival’s main attraction is its music, people are encouraged to visit other events such as its film festival, which takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Le Petit Theater de Vieux Carre.

“We’ll have three days of films,” said Sell. “These are all films that focus on Louisiana, some of them very rare.”

The entire festival is a free, all-ages event open to the public. For concert-goers familiar with the French Quarter, the festival’s inclusivity is an attraction in itself.

“I’m interested in seeing the array of people that come out, since it’s not a ticketed affair,” Tulane freshman Sarah Maier said.

Freshman Jake Ward said there are few reasons to pass this festival up.

“It’s a chance to see free music in the French Quarter, since a lot of places on Frenchmen Street are 21 and up,” Ward said. “I don’t really know who’s playing, but I’m looking forward to being there for the day.”