The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is giving itself a special 50th birthday present: an extra day.
The 2019 Jazz Fest will expand to eight days at the Fair Grounds, kicking off on Thursday, April 25. The extra day was added to the opening weekend to celebrate and augment Jazz Fest's 50th anniversary.
Both weekends of the festival will now run Thursday through Sunday: April 25-28 and May 2-5.
Another indication that the festival's producers are striving to set this 50th anniversary festival apart: The talent lineup and ticketing information for 2019 will be announced in December, a month earlier than usual. In recent years, the talent announcement has come in mid-January.
The new opening Thursday for 2019 is this year's designated "Locals Thursdays." Anyone with a valid Louisiana ID will be able to purchase two discounted tickets for $50 apiece at the Fair Grounds gate that day.
During the 2018 festival, "Locals Thursday" came on the second weekend. In 2019, discounted tickets will be available only for the newly added first Thursday; regular ticket prices will apply on the second Thursday.
This is not the first time Jazz Fest has opened on a Thursday, or expanded to celebrate an anniversary.
The festival added a third weekend for its 10th anniversary in 1979. But that experiment proved short-lived. Rain washed out the first Sunday entirely and depressed overall attendance. The following year, Jazz Fest returned to its now-familiar two-weekend format.
The 2003 Jazz Fest kicked off its first weekend on Thursday; Popeyes sponsored that new opening day. But the festival reverted to a Friday-to-Sunday first weekend in 2004.
The first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Louisiana Heritage Fair, produced by festival impresario George Wein, encompassed a single long weekend in April 1970. Events were held at the Municipal Auditorium, aboard the riverboat President and in what is now Armstrong Park.
Jazz Fest's daytime Heritage Fair moved to the Fair Grounds in 1972. A second three-day weekend was added in 1976. Thursday was tacked onto the festival's second weekend in 1991.
To build excitement for the 50th anniversary, the festival will roll out a series of weekly online remembrances culled from its extensive archives on Fridays. Vintage photos and footage will be posted on various social media platforms with the hashtag #JazzFest50.
On Friday, the festival released a one-minute clip of gospel great and New Orleans native Mahalia Jackson speaking to onlookers during a walk through the 1970 Heritage Fair at what was then called Beauregard Square (now part of Armstrong Park). She was booked that year for an evening concert at the Municipal Auditorium with the Preservation Hall Band and the New Orleans Modern Jazz Allstars featuring Ellis Marsalis.
But she also made an impromptu visit to the daytime Heritage Fair, where she famously sang a spontaneous “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” alongside the Eureka Brass Band.
That first year, Jazz Fest kicked off with an evening cruise aboard the President riverboat on April 22, 1970, featuring clarinetist Pete Fountain and trumpeter Clyde Kerr Jr. The daytime Heritage Fair opened at Beauregard Square the next day, Thursday, April 23, at noon.
By adding Thursday to the 50th anniversary's first weekend, then, Jazz Fest will, in this way at least, harken back to its very first year.