The expanded, eight-day New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival schedule is here to stay, at least for another year.
The festival's producers announced Thursday that the dates for the 2020 Jazz Fest will be April 23-26 and April 30-May 3. Like this year, it will consist of two four-day weekends at the Fair Grounds, each one Thursday through Sunday.
Approximately 475,000 people attended the just-completed 50th anniversary Jazz Fest, organizers said, the most since Hurricane Katrina.
With multiple stages going simultaneously at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, I often see only bits of performances that make me wish I’d seen more.
The highest attendance in Jazz Fest's history was in 2001. An estimated total of 650,000 fans passed through the gates during the seven days of the festival.
In 2006, the first Jazz Fest after Katrina drew 350,000 fans, even as the city was still heavily damaged from the storm. Crowds ticked steadily upward to reach 460,000 in 2015. Heavy downpours the next two years knocked attendance back down to 425,000.
In 2018, attendance climbed to approximately 450,000.
This year, rain delayed the opening of Jazz Fest's gates for 90 minutes on the first Thursday and the second Saturday. But especially on that Saturday, a day headlined by the Dave Matthews Band, Diana Ross and Pitbull, big crowds filed into the Fair Grounds in the afternoon. The closing Sunday also posted big numbers.
No act this year attracted the same sort of massive, densely packed crowd to the main Acura Stage as Elton John did in 2015. Generally speaking, crowds seemed more evenly distributed across the Fair Grounds and the eight days of the festival.
As in 2018, the Gentilly Stage saw audiences overflow the grassy field onto the dirt track for several acts, including Diana Ross, John Fogerty, Tom Jones and the Revivalists.
The O'Jays, Pitbull, Gladys Knight and other acts filled the Congo Square Stage field all the way to the "Ancestors" area at the back.
The original dates for the 2019 Jazz Fest, announced immediately following the 2018 festival, included only seven days, with the first weekend opening on a Friday, as it has for years.
Ahead of the 50th anniversary New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, I read stacks of newspaper articles from the early years of the festival.
Months later, Thursday, April 25 was added to the schedule after the Rolling Stones were confirmed for the festival's second Thursday. Because "Rolling Stones Thursday" was to be a premium-priced day with a reduced schedule on the rest of the Fair Grounds, organizers tacked on a first-weekend Thursday to preserve seven "normal" festival days.
After the Rolling Stones canceled their appearance so singer Mick Jagger could undergo heart surgery, May 2 reverted to a "normal" Jazz Fest "Locals Thursday."
When the special Rolling Stones day was first announced, Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis said that the festival would likely experiment with other such premium-priced days built around a superstar act, though not every year.
By announcing an eight-day schedule for 2020, that leaves open the possibility of making one of them a premium day — or, like this year, simply having eight "regular" days at the Fair Grounds.