Nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the city is showing signs of recovery and drawing visitors back to traditional events, like the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival. It runs on successive weekends - April 27 to 29 and May 4 through May 6. Big names such as Harry Connick, Jr., ZZ Top and John Mayer are on the schedule, but all kinds of music finds a place onstage at Jazz Fest. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from New Orleans, performers celebrate musical traditions that are firmly rooted in the Crescent City.
This is the city where jazz was born and many local jazz groups continue to play local clubs when they are not on tour. The Rebirth Brass Band has fans worldwide, but bandleader Phil Frazier says appearing at Jazz Fest is something special.
"It showcases our talent to the world. Even though we travel around the world, it is a good way for the world to come to us and see us on our own turf."
Jazz Fest organizers see the event as a great coming together of New Orleans music and cultural traditions with the wider world that is influenced by them.
Don Marshall is the man putting it all together. "So many people come to the Jazz Festival from around the world. One of the exciting things is that it really connects our musicians with an international market,” he says. ”A lot of our groups get booked for European tours, record deals are signed, CDs are sold and we are really building a larger market for our musicians and our cultural economy."
Marshall is president of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Foundation. It uses money from the event to support a number of charitable causes in the city.
Preparations for the event begin weeks in advance at the racetrack site where tens of thousands of music fans will soon converge to hear music and sample local food. Don Marshall says putting together the infrastructure for such a huge gathering is a real challenge.
"Most people don't understand that when you are going to be producing an event that attracts approximately 50,000 people a day, that you are building a city," says Marshall.
And this city is full of music, night and day, from one corner to the other.
"We generally have about six major stages,” Marshall explains. “Traditionally, they focus on a certain genre of music. We have our Fais Do-Do [a country dance] stage, which is our Cajun, Zydeco area. We have our Congo square stage, which presents the best of African and Caribbean and African-American influences on our culture. Our Acura stage where some of our really big-name entertainers will be performing."
Big name entertainers, some of whom have roots here, have been lending support to New Orleans and its recovery effort. New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Mary Beth Romig says the support is much appreciated. "To have national celebrities embrace New Orleans, and tell the world how important New Orleans is, speaks volumes for us. We cannot put a dollar price on that kind of support."
She says Jazz Fest gives the city a badly needed morale boost. "This year, to see the kind of celebrity support that is coming out for Jazz Fest, first of all it says the music culture is important, it is alive and it needs to be cherished and nurtured. That is so incredibly important. Then, just to have a big event and have people come and show their vote of confidence is an incredible statement for the city."
Another local group with an international reach is the Trombone Shorty Band, whose leader, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, has been playing here since he was four years old. He says there is no place like New Orleans for music and Jazz Fest is the event where it is celebrated.
"New Orleans music is about feeling good and we try to create the joy and spread it out to the world and that is what I like about the city is that, even if you go check out traditional jazz, you find people dancing and that is what we are about is making people feel good and just spreading our joy around the world."