Jazz Fest officials gear up for 2011 celebration

Published 12:36 am Friday, April 1, 2011

The countdown to the 2011 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival has begun.

“Thirty days from today, the music will start,” festival producer Quint Davis said Wednesday during a press conference at the Fair Grounds Race Course. “Thirty days from right now, we will be getting it on.”

The festival, held over two weekends — April 29-May 1 and May 5-8 — draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city each spring. The Fair Grounds will hold 12 stages showcasing multiple styles of music — jazz, R&B, rock, folk, Latin, gospel, blues, Cajun, Zydeco and alternative. This year’s event also will give a prominent place to Haitian music, culture and art, following last year’s devastating earthquake hit the island nation.

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“We’re all about our culture, our art and our music and it’s about showing this to the world,” Davis said. “And this is what we’ll do for Haiti as we showcase the many cultural links between our city and that country.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu and members of the City Council joined Davis at Wednesday’s kickoff.

“This is my favorite day of the whole year. It’s always the one that excites me the most,” said Landrieu, who served as lieutenant governor for six years and heavily promoted the state’s cultural efforts.

Landrieu said the festival puts 800 businesses to work, in addition to the 500 musicians on tap to entertain the crowds. “That’s a $300- to $350 million economic impact on the city of New Orleans,” he said.

Landrieu said he’s looking forward to Jazz Fest’s start.

“I’ve got my hat, my (sun) glasses and my short pants. And if it rains, I’m coming without my shoes,” Landrieu said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Hasting Stewart, a spokesman for Shell’s Deep Water division, the festival’s presenting sponsor, said the company is proud of its relationship with the festival and had decided to extend its contract “for a few more years.”

The news brought thunderous applause from the audience and a standing ovation from Davis and city officials.

Shell began its sponsorship in 2006, helping to make possible the first jazz festival post-Hurricane Katrina and had been contracted through this year’s event. The extension is for three years, through 2014, Stewart said.

Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and his Zydeco band, the Louisiana Sunspots, performed before and after the news conference. He’s been playing the festival since 1988.

“It’s such a homegrown event that celebrates our food, our culture,” Barnes said of the jazz fest. “We have eight different kinds of indigenous music to Louisiana being celebrated and this year it’s also featuring Haiti which I’m very interested in. I mark my calendar by this festival.”

Grammy Award-winning musician Wyclef Jean, a Goodwill ambassador to his native country, is among the Haitian artists scheduled to perform. Others include Tabou Combo, RAM, Boukman Eksperyans and Emeline Michel, known as the “Queen of Haitian songs.”

Among the other festival headliners are John Legend and The Roots, Kid Rock, Willie Nelson, Lauryn Hill, Wilco, The Avett Brothers, Cyndi Lauper, Fantasia, Lupe Fiasco and Jimmy Buffett, who fell off a stage during a performance in Australia earlier this year.

Buffett, 64, who has since recovered from his injuries and is back on tour, is the focus of the 2011 festival poster as interpreted by artist Garland Robinette, a former television news anchor and current radio personality in New Orleans.

Davis said Buffett started his career in New Orleans. “The first time he was paid to play a song was on the corner of Conti and Chartres streets,” he said. The poster depicts that event.