The Vieux Carré will become ground zero this week as the French Quarter Festival — the largest free music festival in the southeast — kicks off its 30th anniversary celebration with four days of music.
We sat down with Marci Schramm, the festival’s executive director, to learn more about what’s on tap for this year’s festivities.
Highlights from the interview:
On reaching the 30-year milestone:
There’s something just about an anniversary — it causes people to reflect on the past and how far it’s come and how much it’s changed, yet stayed the same. It just forces people to talk about the past a little bit more, which is nice.
The festival started the same year as the 1984 World’s Fair, under former Mayor Dutch Morial’s administration. There were extensive street and sidewalk repairs throughout the French Quarter that year.
Business owners were very unhappy because the construction was causing them to lose business. And so the business owners of the Quarter complained to Dutch and said you have to do something, we’re suffering. And so the mayor, who was brilliant, said let’s throw a party and bring the locals back. And so the whole idea was to stimulate a little tourism and bring the locals back and it was only ever meant to be a one-year event, and so it’s extra, extra thrilling to celebrate this thirtieth year.
On what to expect this year:
There are 21 music stages this year, and over 1400 local musicians. The Festival is grandfathered in as the only annual event that can hold a festival in the square. In fact, Jackson Square was the home of the first stage of the festival 30 years ago.
Construction forced the festival to move the Cajun-Zydeco stage this year.
This year we’re launching this new stage at the Bienville statue. It’s right in the middle of the street on Dectaur, and so we’re going to have a big stage on the neutral ground with Cajun-Zydeco programming, and people are literally going to be dancing in the streets.
How do they accomplish it?
A lot of the way we accomplish it is through people in the neighborhood who help us. There are so many people who allow us to do things that no one else would be able to do in the French Quarter.
There are a lot of these neighborhood partnerships. There are very, very special places and sights that host the stages, and it’s completely through these partnerships and friendships, and the neighborhood pitching in to make it the very, very special event that it is.
The economic impact:
We’re still ranked as second to Mardi Gras, which always amazes me. Last year the French Quarter Festival had a $260 million impact. The only time that changes is when the Super Bowl comes to town, then we’re number three.
We find it’s a direct result of taking an event like this and producing it in the middle of a living neighborhood.
Last year the festival attracted over half a million people. This year the hotels have been sold out for months.
Schramm says the RTA will be doubling the number of streetcars and busses during the French Quarter Festival, and there is also a free FQF shuttle from the Central Business District. Visitors can find $10 fixed-rate parking on O’Keefe St. in the CBD.