?Although New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival employees said they anticipated fewer people Sunday than in days past, patrons filing into the Fairgrounds had mixed feelings about the festival following Saturday’s massive crowds.
Three big acts that closed out the stage Saturday drew humongous crowds, prompting protest from locals and tourists alike: Elton John on the Acura Stage, rapper T.I. on the Congo Square Stage and British Singer Ed Sheeran on the Gentilly Stage.
“It was crazy. It was some of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen, and I’m from here,” said 52-year-old Cricket Taylor, whose husband owns a bar in New Orleans.
On Sunday, local artists were slated to dominate later time slots. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue were to close out the Acura Stage, Dr. John to close out the Gentilly Stage and Kermit Ruffins was set to give tribute to Louis Armstrong at the People’s Health Economy Hall Tent shortly after 4 p.m.
Shortly after 11 a.m., there were still empty chairs in both the Blues Tent and the Gospel Tent, and ticket-holders wandered in slowly, setting up chairs and blankets in the fields near bigger stages. Still, national acts like Lenny Kravitz and Buddy Guy were slated to play the Acura Stage and Blues Tent, and due to the big names on the bill some Jazz Fest patrons said they felt a little nervous about fighting through throngs of people to get a glimpse of the artists, or waiting in long lines to eat or use the restroom.
Taylor’s daughter, Tania, was carrying her son with her in a stroller. She hoped for more relief Sunday than she got the day before, even though she planned to see both Lenny Kravitz and Buddy Guy.
“We’re just doing the same thing, but we’re hoping it’s a little less crowded,” the 35-year-old small business owner said.
Others said they’d learned valuable lessons Saturday, and planned to apply them if things got too crazy.
Betty Rosegaard, a 61-year-old nurse from New York, took relief in the Kid’s Tent and wandered around the outer edge of the track when the crowds got too heavy.
“I can always find a good spot. There’s always a spot,” Rosegaard said, as she wandered in with her daughter and grandson. “You can find music wherever you want, even just sitting under a tree.”
Karl Bechnel and his wife appreciated that the big musical acts were spread out across multiple stages, because they dreaded the idea of staking a claim amidst crowds in any one spot.
Bechnel said he’d tough it out until he saw the bands he wanted.
“I waited until the last day to go,” he said.
New Jersey couple J.D. and Kim Barg, however, planned to leave early if the crowds got too thick, like they did Saturday.
“We kept asking: Is there a limit? Or are they just going to keep letting people in?” Kim Barg, a 47-year-old insurance agent, asked.
The couple left shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday – the earliest they’ve ever threw in the towel, and they’ve been coming for the last 12 of 15 festivals. On the way back to their hotel, they said they met another group from Baltimore who left at 2:30 p.m., because they “just couldn’t take it.”
Sometimes enough is enough, and the festival stops being fun, J.D. added.
“We think it’s possibly a hazard,” he said about the crowds. “Eventually somebody’s going to get hurt. And people may be panicking a little bit.”