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Hot (and Cool) Summer Music Festivals

Springtime in New Orleans gets top billing as festival season, but summer offers plenty of opportunities to maintain a steady diet of live, outdoor music.

Legendary New Orleanian, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians performing at Wednesdays on the Point. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Sultry, yes. Sleepy? Nah.

While springtime in New Orleans gets top billing as festival season, the months of May through August offer plenty of opportunities to maintain a steady diet of live, outdoor music — much of it, for free.

Read on for a rundown of this summer’s music festival options, which range from a scenic, low-key concert series on the banks of the Mississippi to the marquee-name R&B, hip-hop, jazz, and gospel acts headed our way for ESSENCE.

New Orleans Summer Music Festivals

The bayou comes alive during Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo in May. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Bayou Boogaloo, May 20-22

The non-profit, community-minded Mothership Foundation helms this free, three-day local music and food bonanza, staged on the grassy banks of Bayou St. John. Centered around a music schedule featuring favorites from the New Orleans and Lafayette music scenes, the Boogaloo ranks as one of the more mellow, feel-good fests in town. The event also features nosh from local purveyors like Woody’s Fish Tacos, Boucherie, and the Praline Connection, plus a selection of local beer, booze, and coffee, all of which you can (attempt to) work off at the festival-sponsored 5k run/walk on May 21, which starts at Broad and Poydras streets and ends at the festival.

If biking and imbibing with friends is more your exercise speed, there’s also a bicycle pub crawl option that ends at the festival after meandering around mid-city with stops at local watering holes.

Lagniappe: The Boogaloo is committed to sustainable festing and prides itself on being a zero-waste event.

Absorb Cajun and Zydeco music, food, and culture at the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Fest. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

Cajun & Zydeco Festival, June 18-19

Celebrate Louisiana’s Western music heritage with two days of Cajun and Zydeco music in Armstrong Park in June. This year’s free fest, presented by the folks over at the Jazz and Heritage Foundation, welcomes acts including Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Nathaan and the Zydeco Cha Chas, and Bruce Daigrepont.

Food-wise, look for Acadiana staples like boudin, catfish and alligator, plus plenty of fresh Louisiana seafood.

Lagniappe: From noon to 5 p.m. each day, your ankle-biters can get their faces painted or check out workshops in the art of corn collaging and butterfly fan-making, thanks to the Kids Tent, a new addition in 2016.

The Superdome transforms for ESSENCE Fest every 4th of July weekend. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

ESSENCE Fest, June 30- July 3

Kendrick Lamar, Ciara, Faith Evans, Maxwell, and Yolanda Adams are among the bigger names heading to this year’s ESSENCE Fest, an annual celebration of black culture and music presented by ESSENCE magazine’s special events arm.

The massive festival takes place in the Superdome the weekend before the Fourth of July, with headliners performing on the main stage in the center of the venue. A slew of smaller stages around the perimeter of the Dome host performances from a wide array of contemporary R&B, gospel, hip-hop, and jazz artists.

Lagniappe: The ESSENCE special events lineup includes an empowerment speech series, with talks from speakers including the Rev. Al Sharpton and Tyra Banks.

Dance your cares away during the golden hour and into the sunset at Wednesdays on the Point. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Wednesdays on the Point, June 1 – July 6

With the sun setting over the Mississippi as its backdrop, the weekly Wednesdays on the Point concert series in Algiers is arguably the most mellow and scenic summer festival in town. The 2016 schedule hasn’t been announced yet, but last year’s lineup included Rebirth Brass Band, Jon Cleary, and Amanda Shaw.

Lagniappe: What better excuse do you have to hop on the ferry and watch the New Orleans skyline fade into the distance without technically leaving the city?

Satchmo SummerFest is an annual tribute to the life and music of Louis Armstrong. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

Satchmo Summerfest, Aug. 4-7

Staged by French Quarter Festival Inc., the group behind the sprawling spring music crush of the same name, Satchmo Summerfest celebrates Louis Armstrong’s music, life, and heritage with four days of live music and food plus a symposium series.

Usual Summerfest suspects include Kermit Ruffins, PresHall Brass, the Treme Brass Band, and the Hot 8, plus vendors and treats like Vaucresson’s sausage, hot boiled crawfish, and barbecue from Bywater favorite the Joint.

Lagniappe: The symposium series offers fest-goers a pretty serious Satchmo education courtesy of some of the most esteemed historians and Armstrong experts in the country. Recent speakers have included Ricky Riccardi, author and archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, N.Y.; NEA Jazz Master Dan Morgenstern, an eight-time Grammy winner and the director of Rutgers’ renowned Institute of Jazz Studies in New Jersey; and Bruce Raeburn, the curator of Tulane’s Hogan Jazz Archive.

Jennifer Odell is a freelance music writer. Her work appears regularly in DownBeat, Jazz Times, Offbeat and the Gambit, among other publications, and she leads the New Orleans chapter of the Jazz Journalists Association. In her spare time, she enjoys second lining to the Hot 8 or TBC, costuming, and eating all of the crawfish.

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