The first post-Katrina Jazz Fest in April 2006 was a beacon for New Orleanians.
The streets of the city in early 2006 were lined with debris and piles from gutted houses, roofs were wrapped in blue tarps, and FEMA trailers were everywhere. Flooded cars still clogged parking areas and neutral grounds, and the city was threatening to seize any homes not cleaned up by the storm's anniversary.
After the storm, the Fair Grounds Race Course was in bad shape. The one-two punch of hurricanes Katrina and Rita had torn off the roof of the grandstand and shattered its giant plate glass windows. Retreating floodwaters had covered the grounds in a thick layer of sewage sludge. Rumors spread that Jazz Fest would be canceled or would even be held elsewhere in Austin or Memphis.
The Cultural Exchange Pavilion was established at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell in 1996 to honor New Orleans…
But, two important events made Jazz Fest 2006 happen. First, Shell became a special “presenting” sponsor of the festival. Then, Churchill Downs, which had owned the Fair Grounds for less than two years at that point, made a heroic push to get the facility functional.
And so, in an important moment in the history of music festivals, the 37th annual Jazz Fest took place right on schedule.
On Friday, April 28, the gates opened, the crowd poured in, and the New Orleans Jazz Vipers kicked things off in the Economy Hall Tent with a new song, “Hope You're Coming Back.” Other performers that day ranged from 19-year-old Jonathan Batiste to 94-year-old Lionel Ferbos. Dr. John headlined on the Acura Stage.
The first New Orleans Jazz Festival & Louisiana Heritage Fair kicked off with a parade on Thursday, April 23, 1970. Later that afternoon, …
And, for the city’s social aid and pleasure clubs who couldn't parade in their own ravaged neighborhoods, Jazz Fest provided an opportunity to reconnect.
In fact, that Jazz Fest turned into a reunion for all kinds of people: musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, long-lost neighbors and other scattered members of the New Orleans diaspora.
There were many emotional performances that year, but two stand out above the rest in New Orleanians memories: John Boutte’s heartfelt performance in the Jazz Tent, and Bruce Springsteen with the Seeger Sessions Band on the Acura Stage. Both of them are still discussed today.
The 2006 festival wasn’t totally the same as before. It was shortened that year to six days, and there were two fewer stages. For the first time since 1989, the Neville Brothers did not close the Acura Stage on the final day, due to concerns about Aaron Neville’s asthma. Then Fats Domino, who had been scheduled to take the place of the Nevilles, also had to cancel due to health reasons. Lionel Richie stepped up and took his place. It was all very much in keeping with the “two steps forward, one step backward” feeling of life in recovery-mode New Orleans.
Jazz Fest 2006 was an exceptional success, with nearly 350,000 people attending. Producer Quint Davis called it a “shared catharsis.” And most importantly, it looked and sounded and felt like the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Jazz Fest was a major bright spot during one of the most trying years in the city's history. Normalcy was a prize, and we'd won back just a little of it.
New Orleans radio station WWOZ is now almost synonymous with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, with a shared history that goes bac…
The Jazz Fest at 50 series, celebrating the half-century anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, is a partnership between The New Orleans Advocate and WWOZ 90.7 FM.