Blockbuster lineups featuring major music stars have become the norm for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The 2015 edition of the festival follows the trend and then some.
This year’s eclectic headlining acts include classic rock acts The Who and Elton John; the super-duo of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga; country music star Keith Urban; rhythm-and-blues singer-pianist John Legend; bluegrass chanteuse Alison Krauss; young British singer-songwriter and recent Grammy winner Ed Sheeran; Louisiana-born blues man and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Buddy Guy; and New Orleans music stars Aaron Neville, Dr. John and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.
Along with the big names who finish off each day’s music at Jazz Fest’s largest stages, the festival’s cube schedules contain dozens of wonderful acts from near and far. Like the headliners, many of them are internationally known, including a third classic-rock star from the U.K., Steve Winwood; the rising Irish singer-songwriter Hozier; veteran blues artist Taj Mahal; and two husband-and-wife duos, banjoists Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn and the South Carolina roots-music pair Shovels & Rope.
Although the famous headliners top the bill, the festival’s backbone remains the music of New Orleans and Louisiana. Hundreds of local and regional performers, ranging from the traditional jazz group Gerald French and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band to pop-rock act Royal Teeth, will appear daily on all of the festival’s 12 stages.
The festival, which has made the Fair Grounds Race Course home for decades, continues to make adjustments to the site. This year beverage stands have been moved away from the racetrack to improve sight lines to Acura Stage, the festival’s largest stage.
Gray Line Tours will operate the Jazz Fest Express, continuous round-trip shuttle transportation from the Sheraton Hotel, the Gray Line Lighthouse at the Steamboat Natchez Dock (Toulouse Street next to Jax Brewery) and City Park (next to Marconi Meadows) daily from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Jazz Fest Express vehicles will use a special festival entrance that brings festival-goers inside the gates of the festival.
Admission and Jazz Fest Express tickets are available for sale on the days of the festival from the latter locations or in advance through TicketMaster.com.
Roundtrip shuttle trips are $19; festival admission plus the roundtrip shuttle is $89 day of and $77 in advance. For information, call (504) 569-1401 or (800) 535-7786 or visit www.graylineneworleans.com/jazz-fest-express.html.
Single-day tickets for the first weekend are $58 through Thursday, April 23, $70 at the gate; children’s tickets are $5, available at the gate only. Single-day tickets for the second weekend are $58 through Wednesday, April 29, $70 at the gate; children’s tickets are $5, available at the gate only.
Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster.com, by phone at (800) 745-3000 or at the Smoothie King Center box office from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (the least expensive way to purchase festival tickets if paying with cash). General admission tickets are subject to service fees and handling charges.
A parking area for bicycles, expanded from last year, is available at the Gentilly Boulevard and Sauvage Street pedestrian gate.
Vehicle parking/disability access
The Fair Grounds Race Course is in a residential area of the city. The festival does not recommend parking in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The only public parking available at the festival is reserved for disabled patrons who have state issued accessible car placards or other state-issued identification. Charge is $50 per day. Space is limited and is on a first-come-first-served basis.
Information about attendance by people with disabilities is available at (504) 410-6104, email@example.com, fax at (504) 558-6121 and the festival’s ADA page at www.nojazzfest.com/info/patrons-with-disabilities.
FIRST WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS
5:20 p.m. Friday, Acura Stage
Country singing star and ace guitarist Keith Urban is making his second Jazz Fest appearance this weekend, in the headlining spot Friday at the Acura Stage. He previously performed at in 2006, when New Orleans, including the Fairs Grounds, was still in the early months of post-Hurricane Katrina recovery.
A native of Australia who made it big from Nashville, Tennessee, Urban is moonlighting from country music stardom by being an “American Idol” judge. It’s his second stint with the TV talent show.
Both commercially successful and honored by his country-music industry peers, Urban has won four Grammy Awards and eight Academy of Country Music Awards. He’s sent 16 songs to the top of the country charts and received five consecutive platinum or multi-platinum albums awards. In 2012, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Of course, he’s also married to actress Nicole Kidman.
5 p.m. Saturday, Acura Stage
The Who will play its first U.S. festival date in more than 40 years in New Orleans. It’s expected, too, that dates on the current “The Who Hits 50!” tour will be the band’s final concerts in those cities.
Featuring original, surviving Who members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, The Who’s supporting musicians for “The Who Hits 50!” tour include Zak Starkey, the drumming son of Townshend’s and Daltrey’s British-invasion peer, Beatle Ringo Starr.
Daltrey recently told RollingStone.com that the 50th anniversary Who tour will be their last big tour.
“We have to be realistic,” he said. “I want us to stop at the top of our game, when we are still really good at what we do. The quality of the music is what this is all about.”
“The Who Hits 50!” North American tour opened last week at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
“If this really is their last, long lap around these United States,” Tampa Bay Times staff writer Jay Cridlin wrote, “at least The Who aren’t f-f-fading away. … Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend wailed and wind-milled through a lifetime of rock ’n’ roll in two frenzied hours.”
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga
5:15 p.m. Sunday, Gentilly Stage
Tony Bennett, the 88-year-old dean of the American songbook, and Lady Gaga, a modern-day pop star known as much for the extravagant outfits she wears as her many hits, are truly a singing duo.
In September, Bennett and Gaga released “Cheek to Cheek,” an album of duets and solos. The album contains standards more likely to be in Bennett’s repertoire than Gaga’s shows, such as “Cheek to Cheek,” “I Won’t Dance,” the mystical “Nature Boy” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”
Robin Leach, writing for the Las Vegas Sun, reviewed the recent Bennett-Gaga show there at Planet Hollywood.
“With genuine admiration and respect for each another, I’d swear that Lady Gaga and crooner Tony Bennett were flirting with each other while on stage,” he reports. “They cuddled, kissed, danced cheek-to-cheek, held hands and gazed into each others eyes. … It’s a charismatic chemistry between a classic living legend and the world’s flashiest disco diva.”