New Orleans is a city of traditions, and that includes Jazz Fest.

While it always evolves and welcomes new musicians and vendors into the fold, some longstanding appearances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell have become true traditions that are beloved by die-hard festgoers who come back year after year.

The Radiators played every Jazz Fest from 1979 to 2011 and have returned a few times since. In 2018, the group was honored with its own Jazz Fest postal cachet, joining an elite list that includes Professor Longhair, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Pete Fountain and Danny Barker.

Irma Thomas has played every Jazz Fest since 1974. The Soul Queen of New Orleans has delighted festival audiences with mainstage sets featuring her many R&B hits, as well as a separate gospel performance in the Gospel Tent.

Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias’ groundbreaking music was instrumental in the popularization of Mardi Gras Indian music. Dollis and his gang performed at the festival every year since 1974. Bo Dollis Jr. has carried on the Wild Magnolias tradition at Jazz Fest since his father’s death in 2015.

When artists with close ties to Jazz Fest pass on, the festival honors them in special ways. Snooks Eaglin played almost every year after the festival’s inception in 1970, and when he passed away in early 2009, the festival held a jazz funeral for him. That same year, the festival had a jazz funeral in honor of noted photographer Michael P. Smith, who had died in late 2008. The Ancestors Village area at the festival now includes memorials for both.

Allen Toussaint played nearly every year from 1973 until his death in 2015. In 2016, he was honored at the festival with a jazz funeral and a musical tribute by his band featuring special guests at the Gentilly Stage. There were also interviews about him at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage with his collaborators such as Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville and more. He is now honored in the Ancestors Village, ensuring his presence at the festival forever.

Other musicians have had impressive runs at the festival, with no signs of slowing down: Deacon John Moore has been at Jazz Fest since 1972, Dirty Dozen Brass Band since 1981, Donald Harrison Jr. and Terence Blanchard since 1985, Kermit Ruffins since 1987, Jon Cleary since 1988, Trombone Shorty and Anders Osborne since 1993, and so many more.

Musicians love to play at Jazz Fest, and its audiences love to see the consistently fantastic performances from their local favorites — year after year, and decade after decade.


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.