Among the major artists playing at this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival are the Who, Elton John, Keith Urban, John Legend and Wilco.
Wait. Isn’t this supposed to be a jazz festival?
It is — and it isn’t. There are 12 stages going, and you can still hear plenty of jazz, blues and local performers, including the Meters, the Radiators, Dr. John, the Rebirth Jazz Band and Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. & the Zydeco Twisters.
Sure, it’s not the festival rooted in Pete Fountain and the Neville Brothers it once was, but David Freedman doesn’t have a problem with it.
“It’s really that not much of a tragedy,” said Freedman, the general manager of New Orleans’ local music-oriented station, WWOZ. “I know some people see it that way, but the fact of the matter is, you can still hear all the great acts. If you want to have a good time going to the ‘old jazz fest,’ it’s still there.” (It should be noted that WWOZ broadcasts more than 30 hours from the site.)
AEG, the giant entertainment company, is now the driving force behind Jazz Fest, leading to the influx of big names. Previous years have featured Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac as headliners. The change in focus started happening after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Freedman says.
The festival also brings in a great deal of money for local organizations and musicians, many of whom get far more exposure playing in front of crowds of thousands — or tens of thousands — than they would at small clubs.
“A lot of the local acts get in front of the Elton John fans,” Freedman said.
“If, in fact, it turned into a pop fest, I wouldn’t even bother with it,” he added and chuckled. “And ‘OZ isn’t interested in Elton John no matter how big he is.”
The 2015 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will be held at the city’s Fair Grounds from April 24 to May 3. The complete list of performers can be found here.