Weather was a factor on two of the four days, but even torrential rains on Thursday and massive thunderstorms on Sunday before the fest started could not deter thousands upon thousands of people from the music in the French Quarter.
Organizers continue to tweak the set up, and this year upper Decatur Street was closed to vehicular traffic, which theoretically opened up more space for pedestrians. However, adding a stage in the odd triangular intersection where Decatur and N. Peters diverge heading uptown caused additional, perhaps unexpected, problems. This area was completely gridlocked on Saturday. Chairs were set up in the middle of the street.
Another problematic issue is the haphazard way that pedestrians, some clearly intoxicated, bicycles and bike taxis navigate the wide-open lanes of Decatur. My suggestion would be some temporary bike lanes since it’s only a matter of time before there is a serious collision between people on foot and on people on two wheels.
Another concern, especially on Saturday, was the massive crush of people on Royal and Bourbon Streets. The intimate stages make for a wonderful listening and viewing experience, but during Washboard Chaz and Harmonouche’s sets (pictured below), the crowd was pushed very close to the stage.
For much of the afternoon there was only a thin lane by the far curb for people trying to get through the area. Since the fest will indubitably continue to grow, perhaps organizers should consider putting the stages on the side streets or at least moving them from the middle of the block.
An added bonus associated with the French Quarter Festival is the presence of many street musicians (Firebug pictured below) set up on nearly every unoccupied corner. While walking around, we even stumbled upon Tuba Skinny (pictured at top) playing on Royal Street.
I thought that this group had graduated into the clubs, but it seems busking is in their musical DNA.
They had a huge, very appreciative crowd that applauded for all the solos, filled the tip bucket to overflowing, and bought many CDs. They even begged the band for an encore as the sun was setting over the historic buildings.
It’s time to set up no-chair zones at the front on the stages. This system has worked very well at Jazz Fest and at the concerts at Lafayette Square. The chair people take up way too much space, they clog the lines of navigation through the crowds, they tend to be less than friendly, and they detract from the overall ambiance of the festival.
I saw numerous people parked in their chairs at the front of various stages, including on Royal Street during the aforementioned set by Harmonouche, ignoring the music. I even saw a few people dozing in their chairs while the music fans cheered or danced.
In the final analysis, the 30th annual French Quarter Festival was another great example of how we do it in New Orleans. I spoke with several tourists who were overwhelmed at the quality of the musical acts. The sound was uniformly good at all of the sets that I saw, and the vibe was nothing but stellar all around. An estimated 300,000 attended the festival on Saturday; setting a single day record.
Photos except sousaphonist: Paul Villani