The 50th anniversary New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s expansion to two four-day weekends means that it is already half over.

But from Thursday through Sunday, another 300 or so acts, most of them indigenous to south Louisiana, will perform at the Fair Grounds.

dave matthews band

The Dave Matthews Band.

Of course, the major second-weekend storyline has been about a band, actually two bands, that won’t be playing: the Rolling Stones and their original replacement, Fleetwood Mac.

Thanks to Mick Jagger and Stevie Nicks’ respective ailments, Georgia jam band Widespread Panic will top off the Acura Stage on Thursday with a 2 1/2 hour show, the longest performance slot of the entire festival.

In addition to 10 prior appearances at Jazz Fest over the past 22 years — including Thursday headlining slots in both 2015 and 2017 — Panic has a long history locally. For several years, the band and its hard-core fans camped out at the UNO Lakefront Arena for Halloween weekend.

To their credit, the members of Widespread Panic seem to have a sense of humor about the situation that brought them back to Jazz Fest this year.

“Being third choice for the prom’s not so bad,” joked Panic vocalist/guitarist John Bell in a press release. “Seriously, we wish Mr. Jagger and Ms. Nicks quick recoveries, and we’re joyed to be coming back to New Orleans. It’s one of our homes away from home.”


Jimmy Buffett returns to the Acura Stage Sunday.

And instead of a premium-ticket day with a curtailed schedule at all but the Acura Stage, Jazz Fest fans ended up with a full schedule and a bonus “locals Thursday.” Louisiana residents who present a valid ID at the gate on Thursday can buy up to two tickets for $50 — that’s $35 less than the gate price for the other three days.

In addition to Widespread Panic, Thursday’s roster also boasts Tom Jones, Mavis Staples, Ziggy Marley and such local favorites as Anders Osborne, Samantha Fish and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk.

The second Friday’s main stage headliner is Chris Stapleton, the throwback outlaw country singer-songwriter who draws heavily on blues, soul and other roots musics. He’s on at the same time as Austin guitar hero Gary Clark, Los Lobos and Gladys Knight.

On Saturday, the three main stages present the Dave Matthews Band, Diana Ross and Pitbull simultaneously. Galactic, Tank & the Bangas, Big Freedia and Aaron Neville are also on the bill.


Aaron Neville plays in the Blues Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2017 at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La. Friday, April 28, 2017

The 2019 Jazz Fest finally draws to a close Sunday with Jimmy Buffett, John Fogerty, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Chaka Khan, Buddy Guy, Herbie Hancock, the Mavericks, the Radiators, Little Feat and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue with special guest Aaron Neville and other members of the Neville family.

John Fogerty copy for Red

John Fogerty performs at the 2016 Stagecoach Festival in California. 

And throughout the weekend, various stages feature bands from Haiti, the Congo, Benin and other countries, connecting New Orleans music to the music of the world.

This 50th Jazz Fest since East Coast festival impresario George Wein produced the first one in 1970 is very different from that modest, long-ago event in the Municipal Auditorium, aboard the riverboat President, and in what is now Armstrong Park.

But this anniversary edition is still connected to those roots, partly in the form of the musicians who performed at that first Jazz Fest and are still at it this year. This weekend, they include blues guitarist Little Freddie King, Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli, Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and trumpeter Gregg Stafford’s Young Tuxedo Brass Band.

This weekend also features tributes to several first-year legends, including trumpeter Mark Braud’s salute to the Humphrey Brothers and the Eureka Brass Band on Friday.

On Saturday, clarinetist Tim Laughlin, trumpeter Wendell Brunious, pianist Ronnie Kole and trumpeter Doyle Cooper will pay tribute to clarinetist Pete Fountain — who headlined the very first Jazz Fest show, aboard the President, on April 22, 1970 — and trumpeter Al Hirt in the Economy Hall Tent.

Later Saturday on the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage, C.J. Chenier, Nathan Williams and the Ils Sont Partis Band will celebrate the legacy of Clifton Chenier — another first-year festival artist — and Buckwheat Zydeco.

Many other acts on the schedule have been featured at the Fair Grounds for decades. So, too, many of the food vendors — in the same location on the grounds where they’ve been for years — and artisans.

From year to year and decade to decade, much about the festival remains the same, even as it continues to evolve. It’s a lot to take in.

And only four days remain to do so.

Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.

Keith Spera writes about music, culture and his kids.