There's always something new and wonderful to discover at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. If you're heading out this weekend to see Trombone Shorty, Big Sam's Funky Nation, Lionel Richie or one of hundreds of other musical acts, duck into the Cultural Exchange Pavilion as well. Most years, the Pavilion salutes an international culture, but this year it's focused on something different: our culture, which has been celebrated since last November via the city's tricentennial.
The celebration culminated recently with NOLA Navy Week and Tall Ships on the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain and International Weekend, when diplomats from more than 24 nations (including indigenous tribes who were here before 1718) gathered to celebrate and be thanked for their impacts on our city. Other highlights included restoring and reopening Gallier Hall, a free concert titled "Our City, Our Future" at the Saenger Theatre, and an interfaith prayer service at St. Louis Cathedral.
By all accounts, our city's 300th birthday bash has been a hit, and congratulations are in order to Mark Romig, president and CEO of 2018 NOLA Foundation, the nonprofit that coordinated tricentennial events — and the thousands of volunteers (including Romig, who by day leads the city's Tourism and Marketing Corp.) who made the celebration happen. "The focus of our efforts has been to provide as many touch points for the community as possible," Romig told Gambit. "Our aim was to not only create celebratory moments, but also to provide opportunities to learn more about our unique position in the world and become more aware of our complicated and complete history."
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation echoed Romig in a statement, saying, "In addition to New Orleans' renowned Creole and African heritage, the pavilion presentation will shed a light on lesser-known contributions by Native Americans, Germans, Irish, Italians, Vietnamese and Hispanics among others, through artist demonstrations, live music and dance showcases, authentic food, parades, photo exhibits and cultural displays."
Musical tributes include Kermit Ruffins' annual homage to Louis Armstrong, Henry Butler's salute to Jelly Roll Morton and Jeremy Davenport's debut of "One-Way Ticket to New Orleans," a song he wrote for the tricentennial celebration, as well as special tributes to Fats Domino and Sidney Bechet. Cajun and Creole bands will perform, as will Mardi Gras Indians. The festival's traditional second lines this year will include a salute to Congo Square and an Irish-Italian parade. The Cultural Exchange Pavilion will feature a "visual timeline" tracing the history of New Orleans and its people from around the world. Artists will demonstrate everything from canoe making to Mardi Gras Indian beading. The final night of the fest will feature (in addition to Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue's traditional closing) a fireworks display.
There's more to come later this year. Other tricentennial events will include the "NOLA4Women Summit on Women and Girls" in June and the New Orleans Museum of Art's "Duke of Orleans" exhibit, which opens in October. Though it will miss the tricentennial proper, the opening of the new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport terminal — scheduled for February 2019 — is certainly a proper way for the city to begin its fourth century.