Rain came to the second weekend of the 2016 New Orleans Jazz Fest, so crowds didn’t. As a result, overall attendance for the 2016 festival was down from the previous year’s total.
Approximately 425,000 people passed through the gates of the Fair Grounds during the seven days of the just-completed festival, its producers said.
In 2015, Jazz Fest -- officially it is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell -- drew an estimated 460,000 attendees, the highest total since Hurricane Katrina.
Overall Jazz Fest attendance has still not rebounded to its pre-Katrina levels. In 2001, the estimated attendance was 650,000. That figure was boosted by what may have been the biggest single day in festival history, featuring the Dave Matthews Band and the rapper Mystikal, who was then at the peak of his popularity.
In 2015, rain hit the festival during its first weekend. On the opening Friday, lightning storms forced festival organizers to pull the plug on the music around 6 p.m., cutting short performances by Keith Urban, Wilco and other headliners. Attendance rebounded during the second, sunny weekend in 2015, which included an enormous audience for Elton John on the second Saturday.
In 2016, the weather pattern was reversed. The first weekend remained dry, and large crowds turned out for the likes of Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the main Acura Stage. Based on the first weekend, the fest appeared to be on track to at least match the 2015 total.
The second weekend of 2016, however, was a far different story. Rain hit the Fair Grounds early on Thursday, April 28, the opening day of the second weekend, setting a pattern for the soggy days that would follow.
Violent thunderstorms on Saturday, April 30, forced organizers to shut down the entire festival at 4:30 p.m. Performances by Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, Beck, Buddy Guy, Arturo Sandoval and other headliners were canceled.
With much of the grounds already a muddy bog, the rain continued on the festival’s final Sunday, May 1. Heavy rains early in the day gave way to persistent drizzle, paired with gusty wind, right up until closing time at 7 p.m.
Though performances mostly went on as scheduled, attendance was down dramatically on Sunday.
At mid-afternoon, lines were non-existent at normally bustling food booths. Craft vendors also had a lonely day.
Neil Young, who likely would have played to a full Acura Stage field if the sun had been shining, cranked up his guitars for a far more modest, sodden crowd of diehard fans. Plenty of open space remained at the back of the Acura Stage field and in the newly installed bleachers.
Irma Thomas normally draws an overflow crowd for her Gospel Tent appearances; performance tents also tend to be crowded when it rains.
But plenty of empty seats remained in the Gospel Tent during Thomas’ show on the rainy final Sunday.
Fans will get another shot at sunny skies next year. The dates for the 2017 Jazz Fest are April 28-May 7.