The New Orleans Police Department closes down Bourbon Street to mark the end of Carnival season and the beginning of Lent. Without missing a beat and refusing to slow down, New Orleanians immediately get busy with festival season. Springtime is jam-packed with festivals– sometimes with multiple on the same weekend. Clear your schedules (and your bellies) and plot out your festival plans with our list of the most anticipated festivals, including both the tried-and-true and some newbies:
Spring Festivals in New Orleans
BUKU Music + Art Project is a two-day alternative music festival that highlights EDM, hip-hop, and indie rock. This year, the festival will feature big name musicians including deadmau5, Travis Scott, and Lil Yachty, as well as art installations and pop-up street artist performances. Tickets start at $149.99.
Despite the end of Carnival season and the onset of Lent, revelry in New Orleans sees no end. St. Patrick’s Day festivities span an entire week of March and include block parties at Parasol’s and Tracy’s in the Irish Channel (March 11 and 17), as well as parades: catch throws like cabbage and Irish Spring soap at the Irish Channel parade (March 11 at 1:30 p.m.), or sip a frozen Irish coffee during the Molly’s at the Market Irish Parade (March 17 at 6:00 p.m.). Free.
This family-friendly, two-day festival at the epicenter of Jazz music’s origins celebrates the African diaspora culture of New Orleans. The tenth-annual Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival features beats and dance from Africa, the Caribbean, and the American Gulf South. This year’s performers include Rebirth Brass Band, Corey Henry & the Tremé Funktet, DJ Soul Sister, and a “battle” of three Mardi Gras Indian tribes. Free.
March 15 – May 24
Each spring, the Young Leadership Council presents a free, weekly concert series featuring favorite local musicians. On Wednesdays (plus Tuesday, May 2) from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., Lafayette Square in downtown New Orleans fills up with locals straight from work and tourists fresh from a day of sightseeing. Unwind with an Abita beer in hand while dancing to Irma Thomas, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Flow Tribe, or Kermit Ruffins and Marcia Ball. Food, drink, and craft vendors also participate. Free.
One of the most unique New Orleans neighborhood traditions, Super Sunday is perhaps the most visible day of the year for New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indians. Each year on St. Joseph’s Day, Mardi Gras Indian tribes dress in their elaborate, hand-beaded and feathered costumes and march across town. The most popular of these public spectacles begins at A.L. Davis Park and winds through the Central City neighborhood. Free.
Founded in 1986, the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival is best known for its “Stella” shouting contest where aspiring Stanley Kowalski imitators compete to best recreate the well-known scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Take part in master classes for aspiring writers, panels, live theater, special meal-centric, literary celebrations, and educational walking tours. Ticket prices vary.
Top Taco is a brand new festival highlighting the taco with proceeds benefiting One Heart NOLA, which serves foster children in the New Orleans area. Admission includes unlimited sampling of tacos and signature cocktails from participating restaurants like Cochon Butcher, Del Fuego, Rum House, Superior Grill, Bacobar, Blue Oak BBQ, and more. Tickets from $65.
The first year of the New Orleans Bourbon Festival adds another festival to the calendar for the bourbon lovers among us. The three-day festival weekend includes seminars on the drink, tastings at a 1920s-themed speakeasy, dinners, and more. Tickets from $59.
March 31 – April 1
Hogs for the Cause is a pork-centric festival and contest featuring 85 barbecue chefs competing in seven categories, including whole hog, ribs, and sauce. Music acts include Elysian Feel, Naughty Professor, George Porter, Jr., and Escondido. Proceeds from the festival benefit pediatric brain cancer. Eat your pork with a purpose. Tickets from $25 (under 12 free).
March 30 – April 2
People United for Armstrong Park is organizing a four-day festival to kick off its annual Jazz in the Park series. The Jazz in the Park Treme Crab Festival, headlined by musicians Michael Franks and Roy Ayers, will feature dishes like crab ravioli, crab and crawfish macaroni and cheese, and smoked soft shell crab sandwich. Ticket prices vary; free on April 1 and 2.
When the neighborhood began its resurgence, a festival sprang up around it in the 1990s. Now, with over 150 local vendors, live music stages, and food and drink vendors, the Freret Street Festival is one of the premiere neighborhood festivals in the city. Free.
French Quarter Fest is one of the country’s largest free festivals and a hotbed of local music, food, and drink. The festival reroutes traffic so that locals and visitors alike can literally dance in the streets. Performers include Ellis Marsalis, Brass-A-Holics, Mia Borders, Alexis & the Samurai, Fredy Omar con su Banda, Big Chief Bo Dollis, Jr. & the Wild Magnolias, and Tom McDermott and His Jazz Hellions. Free.
Easter Sunday in New Orleans is celebrated with—you guessed it—parades. Three parades roll through the French Quarter on Easter day beginning with the Historic French Quarter Easter Parade (9:45 a.m.), which literally parades to mass at St. Louis Cathedral, followed by the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade (1:00 p.m.), culminating with the Gay Easter Parade (4:30 p.m.). All extravagant! And all free.
April 28 – May 7
Now in its 48th year, Jazz Fest is arguably the most anticipated event in New Orleans, after Mardi Gras. Taking place at the Fairgrounds across two weekend and on numerous stages, festival-goers show up in huge numbers for both music and food. Jazz Fest 2017 features internationally recognized musicians like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers; Earth, Wind, and Fire; and Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds. Still a showcase for local music as well, many established performers like Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dr. John, and Galactic represent New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf South. The Fest also features a “Cuba Comes to Jazz Fest” segment. Though the music really is the highlight of the festival, make plans to try the food (think Cochon de lait po-boys, crawfish, spinach, and zucchini bisque, and Crawfish Monica). Ticket prices vary.
The New Orleans Food & Wine Experience is an annual food and wine festival that has grown to attract more than 7,000 participants. The event features wine and food tastings, a Royal Street Stroll second line, wine dinners, the Big Gateaux Show (a pastry competition that also includes burlesque), and educational seminars. Ticket prices vary.
This year, the typically Baton Rouge-based Superfest has moved to New Orleans, adding even more to the city’s Memorial Day weekend festivities. This huge celebration, featuring Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, and other country superstars, moves to an indoor venue at the Superdome with select events in Champion’s Square. Tickets from $45.
Lagniappe: Festivals Outside New Orleans
We’ve already explored the benefits of a day trip — and these festivals add another layer of fun to your outside-the-city adventure:
Los Isleños Fiesta — The weekend immediately following Mardi Gras, March 4 and 5, Los Isleños Fiesta returns for its 42nd year. St. Bernard Parish, where the festival is held (approximately 17 miles from downtown) celebrates the culture of the Isleños people who migrated from the Canary Islands to St. Bernard, and a few other settlements in the area, between 1778 and 1883. Music, dancing, heritage education, and delicious food make up this festival. Admission: $5
Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival — From April 7 through 9, this festival (held in Ponchatoula, about 50 minutes outside the city) celebrates the juicy bounty of strawberries. Games, entertainment, music, crafts and food (featuring strawberries, of course) are all a part of this event. Buy a bottle of strawberry wine or a pallet of strawberries, and try a deep-fried strawberry! Free.
Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival — The two-and-a-half hour drive is well worth it to Breaux Bridge for their annual Crawfish Festival on May 5-7. First, up your crawfish knowledge with our video and infographic. Tickets range from $5 to $15.
Jambalaya Festival — Head to Gonzales (about an hour outside New Orleans) for Jambalaya Fest on May 26-27. The traditional Louisiana dish — spicy and savory — is the star, but other events include a cooking contest, pageant, and live entertainment.