The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is just around the corner so I've compiled a list of things to do to make your experience as pleasant as possible. I've been to a lot of music festivals in my day and have learned a lot of the tricks of the trade from camping fests like Bonnaroo to more civilized hotel-staying ones like Lollapalooza. And while they are exhausting and crowded and hot, they're absolutely worth it for the amazing music, food and friends. Here is what I've learned over the years.


1. Thou shalt ride your bike.

If you can swing it, ride your bike. All the cool kids are doing it. It's so much easier and convenient to find a place for your bike than it is to find a parking spot for your car. The streets are absolute madness at Jazz Fest (well, they kind of always are in New Orleans), so I ride my bike from the Bywater every year. It's the only way to go, as far as I'm concerned. If you're staying in a hotel, take a cab. Riding your bike also allows you to explore the neighborhood before you go through the gates and buy some homemade lemonade (if you go on May 4, it will be Lemonade Day, so make sure to help a kid out). Or, you know, buy some jello shots.


2. Thou shalt protect yourself from the sun.

Don't wear black; you'll regret it. The sun will bake you. Also, if you wear a shirt with no sleeves, make sure to sunscreen the hell out of your shoulders. In fact, you might want to take a little bottle with you to re-apply frequently. The worst sunburn of my life happened at a music festival, so I'm obsessively careful about being out in the sun. Also, bring your sunglasses, and if you have one, a big floppy hat. It will keep the sun out of your eyes, plus they just look cool.


3. Thou shalt not drink too much.

Don't get wasted, it's not worth it. You don't want to be so drunk that you can't enjoy the music, and you don't want to be so drunk that you've turned into that obnoxious guy that never fails to stand right next to me and spill beer all over my sun-screened shoulders. Also, if you drink too much, you run the risk of getting dehydrated and when you mix that with being out in the sun, it's a recipe for feeling extremely shitty when you get home. If you're going to drink a lot, you should also drink a lot of water.


4. Thou shalt make some tough decisions.

It's inevitable that you're going to miss a few of the shows that you want to see. For example, on May 5, The Black Keys go up against Hall & Oates. I suggest that you just find a good spot and park there for the whole set. If you were to split it up, you'll miss half of the shows just trying to get through the crowds to the other stage. For me, I think I'm going to watch Hall & Oates, just because I'm going through a strange '80s phase right now, and also because I've already seen The Black Keys a few times. Festivals are great when you can sing along with the songs and really get into the spirit of the music, so I'm looking forward to singing some "Private Eyes" and "Maneater."


5. Thou shalt soak in some local talent.

As Jazz Fest gets bigger and more popular every year, New Orleans attracts bigger and bigger artists. This is all really cool, but at the end of the day you're attending the Jazz & Heritage Festival. So make sure to hang around the smaller stages a little bit and listen to some good local tunes. Also, the Gospel Tent is a good little respite from the sun as well as some interesting music that you don't hear every day.


6. Thou shalt brave the Porta Potties.

If you're a girl, I'm sorry, because festivals like this suck for us when it comes to using the loo. Those Porta Potties that bake in the sun all day are gross, gross, gross. And to make matters worse, guys go in there and don't seem to care enough to aim properly. Don't be that guy! I always take a little travel pack of toilet paper or wipes with me. Also, a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer. It makes me feel better.


7. Thou shalt go in a group.

Music festivals are the most fun when you go with a group of people. That way, after you've settled and found your spot, someone can stay behind and watch the stuff. Also, it's nice to have people to split the cost of beer with, because that is expensive. Also, you need people to dance with and sing along to tunes with. It makes for the ultimate experience to share it with friends.


8. Thou shalt bring something to sit on.

I tend to forget this one and I'm always facepalming when I realize I forgot a blanket. On the Jazz Fest website they have a very long list of things you can't bring, but there are a few things that are kosher. You can bring a blanket, a small backpack and fold-out chairs. I have some handy fold-out chairs that you can wear like a back-pack so I can carry them with me on my bike. They're nice to have because while sitting in the grass is fine, it can get uncomfortable.


9. Thou shalt wear comfortable shoes.

Shoes are important. Don't wear anything that can cause blisters from walking around all day. If you wear sandals or flip-flops, be careful of people stepping on your feet. If you're the kind of person who likes to get up at the very front, you probably don't want to wear sandals because you'll get trampled on.


10. Thou shalt eat the food.

Save some room for the amazing food, you guys. It's one of the best parts of Jazz Fest because there's just so much good food to choose from. The thing that is probably the most popular is the famous crawfish bread, but for the past few years I've been nomming on some killer crawfish enchiladas. Also, there's nothing like a big cup of fresh squeezed lemonade to drink in the sun. Absolute bliss.


Also, and this goes without saying, but make sure to have lots of fun! Just be safe out there. If you have any good tips of your own, please share them in the comments.


Happy Jazz Fest everyone!