For many locals and tourists, the idea of bringing a child to Jazz Fest isn’t a question of if you should do it, but why you would want to in the first place.
Yet, for many New Orleanians, The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival gives us an opportunity to share the things we love about our city in one place: its music, its food and its culture all come together for 10 days of sweaty – sometimes muddy – fun.
There are several online resources that give tips and tricks to Jazz Fest with babies, toddlers and young children, and most of that knowledge boils down to one basic piece of advice: Know your kids, which means knowing their limits and finding the spaces and opportunities at the fest to ensure that everyone (including adults) can end the day with minimal meltdowns.
For most parents (and many Jazz Fest veterans), your day will involve a few trips to the Grandstand, with its air conditioning and clean restrooms. It also has the Lagniappe stage, which has a quieter vibe, a usually decent act and seats in the shade to enjoy a snack and a beverage. In addition to the sealed bottled water that fest security lets you bring in, most parents report being allowed to bring snacks and juice boxes. While strollers are allowed, many people opt for a carrier of some kind, as maneuvering a stroller across a muddy fairground through thousands of festivalgoers can become an Olympic event where, instead of a gold medal, the winner gets a Rose Mint Tea and a Cochon de Lait Po-Boy.
In addition to having snacks and water, the Jazz Fest parent is likely to be the most prepared person you encounter in 10 days. Like being on the parade route, going camping or spending a week at Disney World, if you need a dab of sunscreen, a wet wipe or hand sanitizer, chances are a fest parent is going to be able to help you out.
Meanwhile, if you find yourself in need of these items, you can meander to the Kids Tent, located strategically and blissfully near the Grandstand. With its own lineup, activities and food to attract smaller festivalgoers, this area gives kids a chance to have a little time with their peers after spending a day surrounded by a sea of sweaty adults, and the Mac and Cheese there is a festival favorite among folks of all ages.
While it’s easy to spend your day between the Grandstand and the Kids Tent, the Louisiana Cultural Pavilion and the Cultural Exchange Pavilion often have events and performances that can really attract school-age children. This year, the Cultural Exchange Pavilion is celebrating that New Orleans Tricentennial, and the art, crafts and performances are likely to mirror a lot of events going on in town and what kids are learning in school. Last year’s focus on Cuba resulted in my 4-year-old son being mesmerized by Robert Guerra Hechevarría’s 20-foot mural, and we kept finding our way back there throughout the day.
My son’s discovery of Cuban naïve painting brings me to my last piece of Fest parenting advice: Go with the flow. Jazz Fest is a wash of music, color, excitement and good food. These are all things that kids of all ages love, and, while it’s tempting to find constant respite in the Grandstand and Kids Tent, letting them discover the different things the fest has to offer (with a hat, sunscreen and some well-timed breaks) can open our eyes to things we may not have noticed before, perhaps seeing our beloved fest in a new light.