New Orleans Jazz Fest 2024 kicks off Thursday and The Rolling Stones to headline next week

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Members of the Zulu Steppers parade with the New Groove Brass Band along the Fair Grounds at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Thursday, April 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

NEW ORLEANS – It looks like the third time is the charm as the 2024 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival prepares, again, for The Rolling Stones to perform.

The festival, which spans two weekends, opened Thursday with dozens of acts playing daily on 14 stages spread throughout the historic Fair Grounds race course. The Stones play next Thursday, May 2, tickets for which have long been sold out.

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In 2019, festival organizers thought they had landed the legendary rock band, but the appearance was canceled because lead singer Mick Jagger had heart surgery. They tried again in 2021, but a surge in COVID-19 cases ultimately forced the fest to cancel.

Now, says festival producer Quint Davis, “It's gonna be special.”

This will be the first time the Stones play Jazz Fest.

Opening day acts include rock bands Widespread Panic and The Beach Boys, reggae artist Stephen Marley and jazz vocalist John Boutte.

“The talent is great, the weather is projected to be good and people's expectations are going to be met,” Davis said.

Blue skies, sunshine and temperatures in the 80s were forecast for opening day Thursday. Long lines of people were seen patiently waiting to buy big cups of iced tea, lemonade and coffee. Umbrellas, big hats and sunglasses were the accessories of the day.

Similar weather was expected for the rest of the first weekend, which runs through Sunday and showcases performances by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jon Batiste, country megastar Chris Stapleton, R&B singer Fantasia, rock band Heart, Cajun fiddler Amanda Shaw and The Cute Guys, jazz pianist Patrice Rushen, and blues and folk artist Ruthie Foster.

Walter Agnew of Round Lake, New York, said attending the festival had been on his bucket list since he retired from working at a chemical plant in 2020.

“COVID canceled my trip then but I finally made it here for the 2022 festival — and I came last year. This will be my third in a row,” he said.

Agnew said he's looking forward to Stapleton's performance on Saturday and Heart's on Sunday — and of course The Rolling Stones next week but “you really can't go wrong by any of the acts.”

“I'm just amazed at how they're able to put all this entertainment together in one spot,” he said. “Of course it's going to be good.”

Leona Reed, a Los Angeles resident, was with friends attending her first jazz festival.

“Everybody's friendly," she said. "I like the fact that there’s art and the artists are there." She continued, "I love the fact that they honor each type of music and you know, that’s what’s going to bring us all together as a people.”

Ginger Schell, a New Orleans local, is a regular Jazz Fest attendee. Asked why she continues to return, Schell said laughing, “It's everything. It's the music. It's the food. It's the music!”

She said she and her family won't be able to see next week's performance by The Stones, noting the tickets were out of her budget.

“But we generally don't come for any one act in particular,” she said. “We just park our gear in a spot in front of the festival stage and wander throughout the grounds and look forward to being surprised."

Anticipation for the Stones' performance is palpable, Davis said.

“All I'm hearing is ‘How can I get a ticket?’” he said of fans trying to see the marquee performance. “Unfortunately for some, that day sold out in like a day-and-a-half after tickets went on sale. I think people have just waited so long for this.”

The Rolling Stones in October released “ Hackney Diamonds,” their first album of original material since 2005 and their first without drummer Charlie Watts, who died in 2021. Though he hasn't seen a set list, Davis said fans can expect to hear a mix of greatest hits and new releases. No special guests are expected to perform with the Rolling Stones, but Davis said “never say never.”

“Just expect euphoria," he said laughing. "I think maybe we're going to need some ambulances on site because people are going to spontaneously combust from the excitement. And, they're playing in a daylight event. They're gonna be able to make eye contact with the audience. That's going to create a really special bond.”

Acts on the festival's 14 stages usually play simultaneously beginning when gates open at 11 a.m. and continuing until the music ends at 7 p.m. But the other stages will shut down next week when the Stones take the stage.

“We didn't want to have 13 empty stages and no people in front of them when the Stones start singing favorites like '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' and ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,'" Davis said. “Everyone who bought a ticket for that day primarily bought one to see The Stones.”

Davis said tickets for the festival's other days remain available and can be purchased online through their website.

Much of Jazz Fest celebrates the Indigenous music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana but the music encompasses nearly every style imaginable: blues, R&B, gospel, Cajun, Zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk, Latin, rock, rap, contemporary and traditional jazz, country, bluegrass and everything in between.

Colombia’s rhythms, from music to dance and food, also will be highlighted this year as part of the festival’s cultural exchange. Close to 200 Colombian artists are scheduled to participate, including headliners Bomba Estéreo on Saturday, ChocQuibTown’s lead singer Goyo in a guest appearance with local band ÌFÉ on Sunday, and salsa legends Grupo Niche closing the celebration on May 5.

And don’t forget the food. During the festival, food available on site includes crawfish bread, pecan catfish meuniere and catfish almondine, cochon de lait and turducken po-boys, boudin, crawfish étouffée, jambalaya, crawfish Monica and shrimp and grits.


Associated Press Video Journalist Stephen Smith contributed to this report.

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