I’m learning that the buzzword for spring in New Orleans is “festival.” Even though I’ve noticed festivals happen all year here, I keep reading and hearing that we are in festival season.
I have found all this festival talk fascinating because there is a ridiculous amount of festivals that happen in Louisiana each spring and throughout the year. I say ridiculous because I really believe that is the right adjective and here's why: According to the Louisiana Office of Tourism, there are more than 400 festivals every year. 400! That means there are more festivals in Louisiana than there are days in the year. I have read that Louisiana is often called “the festival capital of the world” and I’m beginning to understand why.
But like all other things that are new to me in New Orleans, I've been wondering about the mechanics of festival season, specifically about unwritten rules and assumptions Louisianians know about festival season that outsiders do not.
This question came up in my mind last Saturday morning in yoga class. Before I went into class, I saw people setting up tents and what appeared to be a stage in the parking lot. "I wonder what's happening here," I thought. Once in yoga, I heard a woman comment on the action outside. "It looks like there's going to be a festival tonight!" the woman said. I thought that sounded fun, so I told myself I would do more research to figure out what was going on.
I found out the festival was Taste at the Lake which I had seen signs for a few days before, so I made plans with Chris to go to the festival. However, when I went online to find for more details about it, I was upset to learn the event was $50 per person. "Festivals are usually free!" I told Chris. This wasn't the free and casual event I had assumed it was.
To avoid more festival confusion, I’ve been taking some mental notes about things I noticed at festivals in the fall and what I've heard people talking about for the spring festival season. These are festival characteristics I think all New Orleans newbies should know. For some more tips, I strongly recommend you read this blog post by our Happy Hour blogger Tim McNally, or this story by Sue Strachan from the April issue of New Orleans Magazine. They’ve helped me a lot already, but sometimes you just have to learn by doing. Here's what I've observed about Louisiana festivals so far:
1. A free festival does not mean everything at that festival is free.
I tend to get excited about free stuff, and I’ve learned that a festival with free admission can sound very appealing. But the important thing to remember is just because admission is free, the food and drinks are not. Of course you can tell yourself “Oh I don’t need to drink” or “I’ll eat before I go so I can save money.” No, you probably won’t. You will most likely want to buy a beer or a snack, so bring a few bucks.
2. On the topic of money, not all festivals are free.
Like I said earlier, I learned last weekend that just because someone says there is a festival and you can see people setting up for a festival-like event, that does not mean you can attend this festival free of charge. Unless you’re Daddy Warbucks, some festivals require you to save some cash. One day at Jazz Fest costs $50 if you buy the ticket before May 1. Day passes cost $65 after that.
3. Festivals are crowded, but there are ways to avoid it.
I went to the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival in the fall and saw that the lines fill up fast for those poor boys. I plan to attend lots of festivals this spring and I want to figure out the best time to go. For Jazz Fest, I’ve heard the Thursday of the second week is known as “Locals Day” because a lot of people from out of town don’t come in for that day. But this can be tricky if you have to work… On Twitter, this is where I would say #nolaproblems.
4. Just like everything else in New Orleans, festival season has its own lingo.
Apparently Jazz Fest “cubes” are a thing. For those of us who had to look that up, the cubes make up the full schedule of Jazz Fest and tell attendees who plays when and where. In other cities, you might hear the “festival schedule is up,” but New Orleans is different, so you’ll hear “the cubes are out" or the "cubes have been released."
5. It’s going to be hot. Plan accordingly.
One thing I keep hearing about festivals is how hot people get. I've been told to make sure I remember sunscreen and light clothes. The heat does not sound fun, but I'm hoping the music and atmosphere make up for it.
See you out and about at the festivals this spring! Let me know which festival is your favorite.