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French Quarter Festival

Will Coviello on New Orleans' biggest free music fest

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The Society Brass Band second lines during French Quarter Festival. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Some complaints are flattering. The French Quarter Festival, a free event staffed by roughly 2,000 volunteers, decided to take a risk and expand programming to Thursday last year. Organizers scheduled a half day of performances and encouraged locals to leave work early. The response:

  "People said, 'Why didn't you give us a whole day?'" says festival director Marci Schramm. The festival was founded in 1984 to bring locals back downtown, but it has grown into a tourist attraction in its own right, and visitors sent the same message last year. Many said they would have extended their visits if they had known about the schedule additions before they booked hotels and flights.

  This year, Thursday features a full day of music on the Riverfront and Jackson Square stages, and headliners include Rebirth Brass Band, Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys, Charmaine Neville and others.

  Under Schramm's direction since 2007, the festival has grown steadily. On Saturday and Sunday, a total of 22 stages will feature live music. Stages occupy Bourbon and Royal streets as well as the entire stretch of Riverfront between Esplanade Avenue and Canal Street. While many festivalgoers want to enjoy the Riverfront, the other stages have helped relieve the crowds there by drawing people to less trafficked blocks.

  "We walked the blocks of the French Quarter and asked businesses for their input," Schramm says.

  Even with the House of Blues and the Louisiana Music Factory there, the first few blocks of Decatur Street didn't see much daytime traffic, so the festival put a stage on the corner of Iberville Street last year. This year it features the blues rock of John Lisi and Delta Funk, new wave revivalists The Help, singer/songwriter Luke Winslow-King and others.

  The festival also spread out its Riverfront stages, which now stretch from the Old U.S. Mint to the Cajun and Zydeco stage in front of the Aquarium of the Americas at Canal Street.

  Some growth depends on sponsorship. With its recently renovated Carousel Lounge, the Hotel Monteleone expressed interest in sponsoring cabaret entertainment. A business on Bourbon Street wanted to see more traditional jazz on the street, so another stage was added and there's an array of traditional and contemporary jazz and brass band music on the strip Saturday and Sunday. The festival also respects the historic district's residents, and after 7 p.m. music is mostly confined to the Riverfront and Bourbon Street.

  Children's programming also has been expanded. There is a kid's stage on the Riverfront with music, comedy and magic, and a second area at the Hermann-Grima House (820 St. Louis St.) features children's activities in the courtyard.

  Growth has followed a simple guideline.

  "We only produce New Orleans music," Schramm says. "It has to make sense."

  Opera is not common at most outdoor music festivals, but the French Quarter was home to historic opera houses, and there are operatic performances at 6 p.m. Saturday on the 300 block of Chartres Street. The classical music stage is at the Ursuline Convent (1116 Chartres St.).

  For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, there will be fireworks at the festival. The display is at 9 p.m. Saturday over the Mississippi River.

  There are many special events and a wide array of stages and festival food vendors. Free festival schedule apps are available for both iPhone and Android phones. Visit the festival website for for the download and further information.


The French Quarter Festival daily highlights

THURSDAY

• Rebirth Brass Band
• Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys
• Preservation Hall All-Stars
• Charmaine Neville

FRIDAY

• Soul Rebels
• Bonerama
• The Pine Leaf Boys
• Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes

SATURDAY

• Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra
• George Porter Jr. and Runnin' Pardners
• Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers
• Walter "Wolfman" Washington
• Lost Bayou Ramblers
• Hot 8 Brass Band

SUNDAY

• Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
• Theresa Andersson
• Royal Southern Brotherhood
• Zydepunks
• Ivoire Spectacle
• Leo Jackson and the Melody Clouds

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