The final day of the 2018 French Quarter Festival drew large crowds Sunday, including many who were determined to make up for lost celebrating after festival officials canceled all acts Saturday because of thunderstorms, daylong rain and street flooding.
On Sunday, the rain was just a memory as throngs of spectators packed Woldenberg Park, the French Market area and Jackson Square during the afternoon, enjoying clear, sunny skies and unseasonably cool weather, with temperatures in the low 60s.
Among them was 36-year-old Leigh Torrence, a former NFL cornerback who is now an assistant coach for the New Orleans Saints.
It was Torrence's first year enjoying French Quarter Fest, and he complimented the beautiful weather and the festive ambiance as he and his wife, 32-year-old Lauren Torrence, watched over their two young children playing on a blanket on the grass.
"We're just enjoying the experience," he said, adding that it had been a "perfect day" so far, with large crowds but not so many people that it prevented parking or finding a spot on the lawn.
Festivities at the popular Abita Beer Stage in Woldenberg Park kicked off at 11 a.m. with Cullen Landry and the Midnight Streetcar Band featuring Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, the singer and piano player best known for the song that gave him his nickname.
By 12:30 p.m., Beth Chin had set up chairs with her husband, 67-year-old Jazzmen Rice owner George Chin, to watch the Bucktown All-Stars, followed by the Dixie Cups.
Beth Chin, 66, said that the two have attended French Quarter Fest nearly every year since it began 35 years ago and were disappointed to miss the lineup on Saturday, even though they understood why the festival had to cancel.
"We were just bummed," she said.
At the other end of Woldenberg Park, Valerie Brignac confirmed that large crowds had already turned out by early afternoon as she served drinks to thirsty patrons from a Pat O'Brien's booth.
While she couldn't say how many drinks she had sold, Brignac said Bloody Marys had been the most popular, and that she had already seen more people by 1:30 p.m. Sunday than she saw during her shift on Friday.
"I'm happy about it, for sure," she said, smiling.
A couple of stages away, Brenda and Doug Lively, both 66, were sitting on a bench as Darcie Malone and the Tangle started to perform. They had just finished some fried green tomatoes topped with remoulade sauce from Wink's Original Buttermilk Drop Cafe, one of more than 70 vendors serving food or drink this year.
"We love New Orleans," Brenda Lively said, adding that they had driven from Arkansas the night before, a drive they frequently make to catch festivals and events in the Big Easy.
New festival vendors this year included the Daily Beet, which served mango spring rolls with peanut-ginger sauce; Cafe Dauphine, which featured a deep fried, seafood-stuffed bell pepper; and Flamingo A-Go-Go, which offered a grilled chicken and ham Cuban sandwich.
Also new this year were SouBou's pig Latin tacos, traditional beignets from Cafe Beignet, fried catfish from Cajun Corner and cheeseburgers from Company Burger.
Sunday's festivities wrapped up by 7 p.m. with Cyril Neville & Swamp Funk, the Honey Island Swamp Band, Stephanie Jordan, and Rockin' Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters, among others.
The 35th edition of the festival encountered several hiccups, including the cancellation of all indoor and outdoor performances Saturday because of the weather.
Saturday was to have been the first day when the festival's full array of 23 stages were up and running. Canceled acts included Big Sam's Funky Nation, the Rebirth Brass Band, Mason Ruffner, Monk Boudreaux & the Golden Eagles and many more.
The musicians who were scheduled to go on were paid despite the cancellations, organizers said.
The festival also got off to a rough start Thursday when a large amount of fuel oil spilled into the Mississippi River when a vessel collided with a pier a few miles upriver from the festival site.
The spill resulted in pungent odors drifting in from the river for hours over Woldenberg Park and the recently renovated Moonwalk. Even so, throngs also filled the French Quarter for the festival's opening.
Beth Chin, for one, said she was glad to see the crowds turn out.
"It's good for New Orleans. Let the tourists come," she said. "Plus, it's fun to people watch."