New Orleans' Jazz Fest thrives, despite competition

Tue May 3, 2011 1:11pm EDT
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By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A sea of flowered shirts, colorful tank tops and straw hats sways to an infectious beat under a searing blue sky.

Artists ranging from Bon Jovi to New Orleans jazz singer John Boutte pump tunes on multiple stages as an exuberant crowd delights in the experience of one of the world's largest music festivals.

Robbie Alves, an audio engineer from Los Angeles, is nearly as comfortable in this setting as he is in his West Coast home.

"It's maybe a little bit of escapism, but what's wrong with that?" asked Alves, who has attended the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival almost every spring for the past 20 years. This year's festival began last weekend and continues this Thursday through Sunday.

Forty-two years after it began, the event known as Jazz Fest has become a 12-stage, seven-day blockbuster that features not only jazz but also blues, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, rock, funk, Latin and other styles.

It continues to draw music fans -- 375,000 people paid an average of $40-$60 to spend a day at the fest last year -- even as competition from other festivals has dramatically increased.

"A rock festival has a narrow group of kids that go to it. This festival, from the beginning, went out of its way not to do that," said Quint Davis, producer and director of the event and CEO of Festival Productions Inc.

"This is a festival that's for everybody. When Bon Jovi is on that stage, Pete Fountain is over on that one, Jason Mraz is over there and Fantasia is in the middle."   Continued...