The 2016 New Orleans Jazz Fest headliners include Stevie Wonder, Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Snoop Dogg, Nick Jonas, Steely Dan, Maxwell and Beck. They’ll join Bonnie Raitt, Lauryn Hill, Julio Iglesias, J. Cole, Flo Rida, Buddy Guy, Frankie Beverly & Maze, the Isley Brothers, Chris Botti, My Morning Jacket, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello and hundreds of Louisiana acts at the Fair Grounds this spring.
“When we think about raising the bar -- and I think about it constantly, every waking moment -- that’s getting to a pretty good bar,” Quint Davis, the festival’s longtime producer/director, said Tuesday, describing the 2016 roster. “Now we’ve gotten to the point where we have the biggest and best person we can get on every stage, every day. We have the structure that allows for it, we have the wherewithal to afford it, and people want to do it.”
The 47th edition of what is officially the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell is April 22-24 and April 28-May 1.
Prominent local artists on the bill include Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville, Galactic, Mystikal, trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective, the Revivalists, Hurray for the Riff Raff and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk with special guest Art Neville. Jon Batiste, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts alumnus who is now the bandleader for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” is coming with his band Stay Human.
The increasing popularity of local artists has enhanced the festival overall, Davis said. “When people used to come to the fest, one of the high points was you walk around and go, ‘I don’t know who these people are but they’re fantastic.’ Not now. Now people all over the world know who these people are. That’s a different dynamic. As the years go by, there has been a constant rising up of the next generation of great artists.”
Members of the Marsalis family are featured on the commemorative Jazz Fest poster, by artist Paul Rogers.
Beyond the locals, the 2016 roster is especially top-heavy with marquee talent.
Wonder was one of the very first headliners to confirm for 2016. His only other full Jazz Fest show was in 2008. At New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center in 2015, he performed his entire “Songs in the Key of Life” album. At Jazz Fest, Davis said, he’ll play “songs in the key of Stevie. He’s going to do a big, long, every-song-you-ever-loved-by-Stevie Wonder show.”
Pearl Jam will close the Acura Stage on the first Saturday, returning to Jazz Fest for the first time since 2010. Frontman Eddie Vedder was scheduled to bring his solo ukulele tour to the festival in 2012, but canceled in the wake of an injury.
Davis has courted the Red Hot Chili Peppers, avowed fans of legendary New Orleans funk band the Meters, for the past two or three years. As the band intends to release a new album in 2016, the timing finally worked for Jazz Fest. Years ago, bands as popular as the Chili Peppers would appear at Jazz Fest only on Saturday. The Chili Peppers will headline the first Sunday, which in recent years has boasted bands as big as the Saturdays of old.
Simon is no stranger to the Fair Grounds. In 2010, he and his buddy Art Garfunkel performed their first concert in six years to an enormous crowd at the Acura Stage. At the 2006 Jazz Fest, the first after Hurricane Katrina, Simon was joined by several locals, including Irma Thomas. Programming Thomas on the same day and stage as Simon this year “was no accident,” said Davis, who’s hoping to faciliate a repeat of their collaboration.
Neil Young will be touring this spring with a relatively new band, Promise of the Real. On the seocnd Sunday, Young will precede homegrown favorite Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue on the Acura Stage. Shorty will close the festival at Acura for the fourth consecutive year.
The 2016 Jazz Fest will be the first since the death of Allen Toussaint, a festival fixture for decades. Toussaint died in November of a heart attack while on tour in Spain. He will be the subject of a tribute at the Fair Grounds on the second Sunday, as will B.B. King, another longtime festival favorite.
The inclusion of Snoop Dogg, J. Cole and Flo Rida is indicative of the festival’s increasing willingness to book major hip-hop artists. All are Jazz Fest first-timers.
Beck Hansen is also making his Jazz Fest debut. He played a solo acoustic show at The Boot 20-odd years ago, just as his first hit, “Loser,” gained traction. He didn’t perform in New Orleans again until his sold-out show at the House of Blues in October 2014, months before his “Morning Phase” won the Grammy for album of the year.
Jazz Fest Thursday is traditionally a more low-key day at the Fair Grounds, with smaller crowds. That will likely be the case again in 2016, as the day’s headliners are Elvis Costello, Flo Rida, the Tedeschi Trucks Band and guitarist Gary Clark Jr.
Festival organizers are still fine-tuning a response to the mammoth crowd that swamped the Acura Stage field during Elton John’s 2015 performance. “There were some public safety things that we didn’t like, when the crowd went to the fence and cut off the flow on the race track,” Davis said. “It’s important to maintain that access.”
Adjustments to prevent a repeat of that gridlock are “still a work in progress,” Davis said. “It’s not something that’s not front and center for us. We want that many people at the festival, but we want it to work smoothly and not feel overcrowded. We want the festival to be a good experience for people.”
The Jazz Fest is owned by the non-profit New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation. It is produced by Davis’ Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans and AEG Live, one of the nation’s largest live entertainment companies.
Tickets are on sale now. Early-bird single-day tickets are $60 through February 2, an increase of $2 from last year. The advance ticket price bumps up to $65 on February 3. Additional service charges apply to tickets purchased through Ticketmaster.
A ticket at the gate will be $75, a $5 increase from 2015. Tickets for children ages 2 to 10 are $5, as they have been for years, and are available at the gate only.
Single-day tickets to Jazz Fest are on sale by specific weekend, with each ticket valid for a single day’s admittance.
A limited number of VIP ticket packages, which include access to reserved viewing areas and other amenities, are available at various price levels.
The complete, day-by-day list of performers is available here.
Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.