In 2002 I attended the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for the first time. It was an incredible experience enjoying the hot weather, tasty food, and long, music-filled nights of dancing and partying. Often the good times lasted until the sun came up the next morning. The thermometer hit the high 90s every day and the humidity was thick. I was younger then, but much bigger and extremely out of shape. While we made it to the fairground for the official New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival two out of the four days we were there in 2002, the focus of that year was definitely on the jamband shows in the evening and late nights like the ones put on by Superfly Productions.

On the few days that we made it to the actual festival during the day, the experience was not altogether pleasant. There were three of us total and we stayed in a pretty crappy hotel room while we were there. Cutting costs as much as possible on my tight budget was essential. The late nights made noon come very early, and walking around the crowded festival site hungover on limited sleep in the sweltering heat was difficult at best. Passing out felt imminent on a few occasions. But we had a great time partying late in the evening with all our favorite jambands every night we were there (Wednesday through Monday on the second weekend), eating good food, and taking in two days of music (including the closing day) at the actual festival.

This year will be a little different, I think. While I do plan on attending a few jamband shows in the evenings this year, my focus will definitely be more on the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival over the shows at night. We will be there from Wednesday to Monday again over the second weekend, but not staying in a crappy hotel room this time around. The six of us are staying in a pretty nice condo we rented only a few blocks from the French Quarter. It’s spacious and has full amenities. We’ve got tickets to see the North Mississippi All-Stars on the Riverboat Creole Queen on Friday night…and I’m pretty sure we’ll go see Garage A Trois and friends at the Howlin’ Wolf on Wednesday night, especially since it’s only two or three blocks from our pad! But other than that, we have no solid plans for the evenings (other dinner at nice place one night). This year I think we’ll just roll with whatever we stumble upon for entertainment in the evenings and probably not stay up until 6am.

And that’s not just because I’m getting older now clocking in at thirty-seven. It’s because the line-up (and the food…oh, the food!) at the actual festival this year looks pretty damn phenomenal. Seriously. Check out some of what’s on my radar for tunes each day. Thursday: Dumpstaphunk, Gov’t Mule, Soul Rebels, Elvis Costello, Blues Traveler, and Widespread Panic. Friday: Buckwheat Zydeco, Astral Project, New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra, Kermit Ruffins, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Stanley Clarke and Aretha Franklin. Saturday: Russell Batiste and Friends, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Anders Osborne, The Rebirth Brass Band, Galactic, Cyril Neville, Sonny Landreth, Old Crow Medicine Show, New Birth Brass Band, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Marcus Miller, Jeff Beck, and Pearl Jam. Sunday: Ruthie Foster, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave, Wayne Shorter, Richie Havens, The Radiators, Van Morrison, B.B. King, and the Neville Brothers. And those are just the bigger names that are familiar to me! One of the greatest things about Jazzfest is checking out the smaller tents and discovering new, wonderful music. But the stuff I know alone is worth the price of admission.

The food options look fantastic, too! I had no idea the volume and variety of tasty Cajun food options that would be made available to me at the festival. It’s pretty impressive. While I look forward to going out to a nicer restaurant one of the nights we are there, I’m even more excited for the food on site. Small restaurants and caterers from all over the state sell there delicious regional cuisine at a sea of little food booths on the fairgrounds. After checking out the list of offerings this year I will be excited to try things like Crawfish Bread, Shrimp Bread, Sausage & Jalapeño Bread, Crawfish Sausage Po-Boy, Pecan Catfish Meunière, Seafood Mirliton Casserole, Fried Crab Cake w/ Smoked Tomato & Jalapeño Tartar, Crabmeat Stuffed Shrimp, Fried Green Tomatoes, Crawfish Etouffée, Boiled Crawfish, Crawfish Stuffed Puff, Cajun Crawfish Rice, Muffuletta, Vegetarian Muffuletta, Roast Beef Po-Boy, Turkey Giardiniera Po-Boy, Pheasant, Quail & Andouille Gumbo, Crab & Crawfish Stuffed Mushrooms, and the Crawfish Enchilada. And that list honestly only scratches the surface of the food available!

So this year will be about packing up a backpack with a sunblock, sunglasses, a blanket, and some water, and heading into the festival each day. And who knows, maybe I’ll stay up for some of the most intense music and partying after the fest when things get crazy in the wee hours, but I know my limits. It’s possible an adrenaline rush (and maybe some strong coffee) could keep me up until 6am if the music has me rocking, but if not the vibe is still pretty sweet from 10pm to 2am. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has enough music and food to keep any music lover interested for four consecutive days, and as always there’s a solid line-up of great bands to choose from each night after the festival from 7pm until 10am the next morning. Amazing! Attending a great festival with old and new friends in a historic town known for its party vibe and tasty food is something to look forward to. It’s only one month away and I couldn’t be more excited.