What has become one of the world’s largest free music festivals started as a way to celebrate new sidewalks in the French Quarter. In 1984, then-Mayor Dutch Morial proposed a French Quarter festival to bring people back to the Quarter after 14 weeks of sidewalk work, costing $7.2 million, kept people away from.
Although the city got Ed McMahon to emcee the festival’s battle of the bands, the festival drew fewer than 1,000 people. That first festival featured flash dancing and breakdancing contests, which are no longer held, as well as a battle of the bands and a 5k, which still occur.
In 2016, the four-day festival attracted 760,000 people to 23 stages throughout the French Quarter, making it the largest free festival in the South.
The festival employs 1,700 local musicians. Local restaurants are also featured in the 60-plus booths featured in the “World’s Largest Jazz Brunch.”
Over the years, French Quarter Festivals has expanded and the non-profit now also produces the Satchmo SummerFest and Christmas New Orleans Style.
A University of New Orleans economic analysis pegs the festival’s economic impact at $188.6 million.