Doing Festivals Right: Tips for Festival Season

The number of festivals staged around here has got to be staggering. There is not a weekend at any time of the year when a festival does not occur. No exaggeration. Well, maybe the weekend after or during Christmas, but even then there’s Christmas New Orleans Style, Celebration in the Oaks and the many events that were formerly known as a Creole Christmas.


No need to tell you what goes on right after Christmas with the New Year’s celebrations and the Sugar Bowl.


What sets our festivals apart from those staged just about every place else is the intense local participation at every event. We pretty much stage festivals for ourselves and then we are happy when the world shows up to assist in the party. Mardi Gras is a perfect example.


But just because we enjoy a lot of festivals, and attend them in large numbers, does not mean we are taking full advantage of the celebration opportunities they present. We often see visitors who, after two days, are ready to go home or just relax in the hotel room because they have had enough. We are just getting started. Our celebration stamina is because we stay in Mardi Gras mode pretty much year-round.


More than one visitor after a day or two of enjoying our hospitality has noted, “This town kicked my ass.” They usually say that to us as we are leaving the room ready to head for another day of great food, fun music and maybe a drink or two. Ha! “Maybe” has nothing to do with it.


I was reminded of our penchant to never miss a moment of every party by a friend in Dallas this past weekend where I attended the wine festival, Savor Dallas. On Saturday night at the Grand Tasting of this truly gala festival, my friend asked what other events we had attended. I reeled off a number of items. Okay, so we did not miss a thing. My friend asked how we do it all.


It was a cheap answer, but my response was, “practice, practice, practice.”


By the way, The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival is underway and goes through Sunday with the Stella! hollering contest. Hendrick’s Gin is a major sponsor because good ole’ Tennessee loved his G+T’s. Full information is at Check it out.


Here again, a literary festival in any other town would probably be more about, well, literature. There’s a lot of that with this festival, but there is also plenty of other diversions to keep a New Orleanian quite satisfied.


That is why it is so important for you festival maniacs to work from a plan. What’s the use of being at a festival enjoying yourself, then hearing later about some amazing activity that you knew nothing about? It’s happened so often to me that I have quit kicking myself. The bruises never healed.


Anyway, as we begin another crazy festival season, here are random thoughts that may serve you well over the next few months.


Know Before You Go

Become familiar with what the festival stands for. Why be in the midst of an event that sounded good, but the purpose is of no interest to you? If you think the French Quarter Festival is about historic preservation and haunted tours, re-think that… Big time.


Particularly on festivals pointed to a specific topic, such as wine, spirits, food or culture, be certain you are interested in the topic, or at least curious.


Study the Festival Activities before You Sign Up

When you know the entire breadth of activities, seminars, tastings, music and food items, then you can head to the areas that interest you most. Shame to spend time at the meat pie vendor area when you are missing Miss Irma Thomas or Alan Toussaint. The food can wait.


You will want to be where you need to be when you need to be there. Everything at a festival is fleeting. Usually there are no second acts or even curtain calls. Entertainers finish their set. Wineries run out of the good stuff. Nothing waits for you.


Comfort, Comfort, Comfort

Get a good night's rest the night before. In Dallas, during Savor Dallas, we stayed in the Four Seasons Resort in Las Colinas. That place is the ultimate in luxury. During the festival, we were rested, content and knew that we were heading back to more great satisfaction after a day or night, or both, of big festival enjoyment. It made everything that much better.


Be certain you wear the proper clothes and, for goodness sake, wear appropriate footwear. Festivals are a lousy time to be breaking in new shoes or fussing with clothes. From what I have observed at many festivals, no one is going to notice your outerwear anyway. You may as well be as comfortable as the law allows.


Always Have a Plan B

When matters are not going as planned, go to another plan. Maybe you don’t need all the time you originally allotted, or you determine that the act you really wanted to experience is not at top form, move on.


Most festivals are manic. The organizers are intent on doing something for everyone. And not all items on the schedule turn out the way you had hoped. Don’t waste your time. Get on to something else.


Keep the Number of People in Your Group to a Minimum

Being with friends is very cool. Trying to herd cats in a crowd is not. I can’t tell you how many cell phone conversations I have been privy to while some big-name act is on the stage at Jazz Fest. Makes you wonder, “Did you come to enjoy Dylan or just be a tour guide?”


Don't Leave Your Common Sense at the Gate

If you drink sweet drinks in the sun in great quantity, what’s going to happen to you? If you are outdoors without sunscreen, what’s going to happen to you? If you eat crazy foods with heavy sauces, when you never do in real life, what’s going to happen to you? If you don’t keep yourself hydrated with water, what’s going to happen to you particularly when you are gulping down alcoholic beverages like they are made of water?


For each of those questions, there is an individual answer applicable to you only. Be honest. And act accordingly. Don’t make me call your mother.


Festivals of all types are just about the most fun many adults have when the sun is out, or, for some, even at night. Getting more from the experience means at least a little advance homework.


Of course, I have friends who go to Europe and all they know is that it’s east of here, maybe. No prep works seems to be their, and others, mantra. It works for them. But I still think they are missing something by not being ready or informed.


Enjoy Festival Season. It’s a crazy time. Of course that’s true about every other time for this town.




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