As newbies to the Jazz Fest scene we were so grateful to have some seasoned Jazz-festers who took us under their wing, mainly my cousin who flawlessly shepherded us through the experience like a pro. He has been attending Jazzfest for about a decade and for him the late night shows are of main importance. So we followed his lead and went with his flow.
There are a few ways to set up your Jazzfest experience. First, you need to decide which weekend you will go. Like Coachella the festival runs two weekends in a row. Unlike Coachella however, their can be slightly different lineups and of course the late night shows will be different every night during the two week run. We had a few friends who did the entire thing and they said it was a real push.
We decided to focus on the second weekend but stayed an entire week (Wednesday to Wednesday) giving ourselves plenty of time to soak in a lot of music, food and fun. Jazzfest is alot like Burning Man in that there is more to do than you could ever accomplish. My cousin made the remark that you can judge a good Jazzfest by what you missed and not what you saw, meaning that there is simply too much magic going on to be part of it all. One thing of note to add for those wanting to prioritize the festival, apparently the Grand Marshall tickets are worth it. They give you better viewing access and a bunch of perks that our seasoned Jazz Festing friends said is well worth the money but only if you are going to really do the festival.
Once you have decided which days you will attend the fest it’s time to start mapping out your Jazzfest show schedule. The festival schedule is set well in advance so if you are planning to attend and see any of the acts there you can now start to backfill around that. You start researching “The Jazz Fest Grids.” The Grids tell you what bands will be playing around the city itself. This can be a tough part of planning Jazzfest because again there are so many shows to choose from. Furthermore, the Grids are available starting December 5th and keep populating all the way up until Jazzfest. So you may in fact find that a new show is added later that you prefer. Our group solved this situation by often buying multiple tickets to overlapping shows. If we were at the first show and not feeling it, we could bounce out to the next show and see something different.
A couple of things to note here is that you have to make peace with the fact that you may not go to a show that you paid for. We chalked this up to the cost of doing business because if you don’t purchase tickets for some shows ahead of time, they could sell out OR you have to wait in long lines to purchase tickets before you enter the show which could eat up all the time you have to actually see the band. So for us purchasing a few sets of tickets that we may not use was acceptable.
I will add that a few seasoned folks do the opposite and only buy tickets to shows they know they want to see and then they wing the rest, hoping people will have extra tickets at the venue or that they can buy them onsite. The good news is that many people who end of having extra tickets to a show they aren’t attending do sell them. So you can usually find tickets for most events.
There are so many shows to choose from but I will mention one location you must see a show at and that is Preservation Hall or “Prez Hall as most refer to it.” Buy seats to ensure an awesome experience or get there early. You must be in the room in order to experience the magic and preferably where you can see the band. This was by far my favourite experience of the entire week. Do not miss it!
Next up, you need to decide on accommodations. Again, you have many choices in this area and it really depends on what is important to you. Many people get Airbnb’s or vacation rentals. The pro’s about this is it’s typically less expensive when you split the cost. Additionally, you can make a little more noise then your standard hotel room, (especially late night which you will definitely be up for). Lastly, you can have some snacks and food on hand when you come in at zero dark thirty.
The con’s are that often you will have to split your group up in different houses if you are coming with a big group. This can be an issue if you are all trying to meet up to go to shows together. You don’t have daily housekeeping services (unless you add that) and that can be a bummer with so many people coming and going. There is really no time to clean and organize the house. You are on a pretty crazy schedule and having to be responsible for cleanup, laundry, etc. can be a drawback.
The positives about getting a hotel is that you can still have daily maid service, your whole group can stay in one site and you can stay in a central location to all the action. However, the major drawbacks are having to be quiet when you come in late at night. Having after parties to go to at friends staying offsite it really the best and then when you are ready you can go back to your nice clean, comfortable, dark, quiet room.
We chose hotels because the latter was most important to us. Your schedule gets flipped upside down and by the end of the trip we were mostly up all night and sleeping all day so having a place to get real rest was imperative. If you stay anywhere close to Canal street or near the French Quarter you will be well located to all the action and if not, Ubers and Taxi’s are readily available to take you wherever you need to go.
Lastly, you should make your plans well in advance. Hotels, restaurants and rentals book early. It’s not uncommon to book a year or more in advance. If you don’t have that much advance notice you can still make it happen, you just may not have as many options. New Orleans is a foodie paradise and if you want to experience some of the amazing restaurants there, be sure to make your reservations ahead of time.
“Pro tip: If you can’t get a reservation during prime dining hours, try for an early reservation and often you will get in.”
Pro tip: If you can’t get a reservation during prime dining hours, try for an early reservation and often you will get in. We did this a few times and actually didn’t mind eating an early dinner since we typically had just woken and we were ready to eat.
Although we eat pretty strict paleo/ primal at home we did not adhere to this while in New Orleans. For us, there were too many things we wanted to sample to adhere to a strict diet. After over ten years of cultivating a healthy gut and the ability to buffer these types of experiences we went all in. Furthermore, we were so busy that we really only had time for one meal a day, so we made it count! If you are in the same boat, we recommend trying all the things. It’s so worth it!
One more pro tip to consider. You will walk, dance and put on more miles during Jazzfest than you can imagine. Wear comfortable shoes. On my first night I wore a boot with a very small heel and it was too uncomfortable. I promise you will thank me later.
My cousin has been trying to get us to go to Jazzfest for the better part of a decade and we are so glad we finally took the plunge. The music, the city and of course having an awesome posse to share it with made it all that more special. If you love music and want to experience New Orleans at its peak, GO To Jazz Fest! Maybe we will see you there!
Make sure to follow us on Instagram where you can see all the amazing adventures and experiences that we are sharing. If you want to join us at a future “experience of a lifetime” be sure to check out our event offerings here. We have amazing retreats and adventures all over the world and we’d love to check the box on one of your bucket list experiences soon!
I have included the restaurants that we ate at and some notes about them below.
Pro tip: If you are doing any fine dining in New Orleans it’s good idea to check to see if they have a dress code.
You can also check out this guide to Nola restaurants here.
Justine’s – SUPER cute restaurant with an open air terrace leading out to the French Quarter. Great food and awesome staff. Highly recommend!
Black Duck Bar – Good place for more traditional menu and style that lets you know you are definitely in New Orleans.
Compere Lapin – A traditional Caribbean and creole mix, our favourite here were the cow heel soup.
Meril’s – Emeril’s fourth restaurant at the time of the blog in New Orleans. Was quite possibly our favourite overall. Do not miss this one for sure! Fried Chicken salad was insane and so was the flat bread pizza. Get one of everything and share!
Cochon Restaurant – One of our favourite restaurants as well. Delicious versions of Cajun Southern classics with locally sourced meats and lots of fresh herbs and spices. Also, if you love a dry champagne try the Henriot. This was a staple for us at every place that carried it. Or if you are a Rose’ lover try the Amesti.
Cochon Butcher – Right next store to Cochon is their Butcher/ Sandwich shop. We stopped in after our meal to buy some sandwiches for later and they were delicious. Highly recommend the Turkey and the Pastrami.
Sylvain – Super vibey with great outdoor patio. Features Southern Bistro Classics and walks the line between bar and Restaurant. We had to start with the Champagne and Fries (Henriot of course). As much as we wanted to try different things we couldn’t help but get the fried chicken sandwich and it was amazing. Feel free to branch out though as there were some amazing looking items on the menu.
Herbsaint – Again another favourite.Offering seasonal French – Southern Cuisine. Highly recommend the Gnocchi and the Beef Short Rib.
Cleo’s – We stumbled into this Mediterranean gem at about 6am one morning. They are open all night and their food is ridiculously good. Don’t be thrown off by the fact that it is in a convenience store. The food is insane and a way better option than IHOP at that hour.
Brennen’s – This is a foundational New Orlean’s Creole restaurant and the home of the notorious Bananas Foster. Brennen’s is synonymous with New Orleans Fine Dining. However for us, we didn’t love the food. It was simply to rich for us and we don’t have the type of palette that appreciates that type of very traditional New Orleans food. If you do and you want to experience and peice of Louisiana culture, give it a go.
Additionally, there are a ton of restaurants and cafes on Magazine street. We didn’t get the opportunity to eat at any but we walked down the street and there was so many amazing looking places to choose from. Check out this article from Thrillist for some tips on eating there.