For more information on Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, Festival Internationale, and other major area events, see “Mardi Gras & Jazz Fest.” For general information, contact the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2020 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, LA 70130 (www.neworleanscvb.com, 800/672-6124 or 504/566-5011). For a list of other Louisiana festivals, visit www.laffnet.org.
Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic. First held in 1934, this is New Orleans’s oldest yearly sporting occasion. The football game in the Superdome is the main event, but in the days just beforehand, look for a second line parade to kick off the festivities, and a massive Fan Fest in the French Quarter. https://allstatesugarbowl.org; 504/828-2440.
Lundi Gras. This tradition brings a free, outdoor music-and-food celebration to Spanish Plaza (Poydras St. at the river), with the big event at 6pm: the ceremonial, waterfront arrival of the Kings of Rex and Zulu, marking the beginning of Mardi Gras. They’re welcomed by the mayor, fireworks, and much whoop-de-doo. 504/522-1555. Monday before Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras. The culmination of the 2-month-long carnival season, Mardi Gras is the centuries-old annual blowout. Each year the eyes of the world are on New Orleans, as the entire city stops working and starts partying, and the streets are taken over by awe-inspiring parades. Day before Ash Wednesday.
St. Patrick’s Day Parades. There are several, with dates (like the paraders) usually staggered. Instead of Mardi Gras beads, watchers are pelted with veggies, including the coveted cabbages. In 2019, a funky French Quarter parade kicks off at Molly’s at the Market (1107 Decatur St.). On St. Patrick’s Day, the downtown parade begins at 6pm at Burgundy and Piety in the Bywater and stumbles along a route to Bourbon Street (www.stpatricksdayneworleans.com; 504/525-5169).
Buku Music + Art Project. This packed millennial party of hip hop, EDM, acrobats, and visual artists is New Orleans’ answer to Electric Daisy or Movement. Sellout crowds of 35,000 anything-goes attendees fill the six stages overlooking the Mississippi River and floats at Mardi Gras World. Unsurprising, given artists like SZA, Migos, Kid Kudi, Flaming Lips, and Kendrick. Tickets for the 2018 Buku started around $100 per day; VIP packages were way more. www.thebukuproject.com. March 9–10, 2019.
St. Joseph’s Day Parade. Another fascinating, little-known festivity. Italians venerate St. Joseph, patron saint of families and working men, on his saint’s day with a parade (usually the weekend before) and the creation of devotional altars. These moving, elaborate works of art feature food, candles, and statues and can be viewed at various churches and private homes (where you might also get fed), and at the American Italian Museum, 537 St. Peters St. Locations are listed in the Times-Picayune classifieds and on www.nola.com prior to the event. 504/522-7294.
Super Sunday. At these annual Mardi Gras Indians gatherings, tribes garbed in full, feathered regalia preen, parade, and engage in ritualized showdowns with traditional chants. The Uptown event take place on the Sunday nearest St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) at A.L. Davis Park, Washington Avenue, and LaSalle Street, from noon till late afternoon, with music and food booths. The looser Downtown street meeting is usually a few weeks later on Bayou St. John at Orleans Avenue. For details, check with the Backstreet Cultural Museum (www.backstreetmuseum.org) or www.wwoz.org/inthestreet. Mid-March to mid-April.
Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival. This 5-day series celebrates New Orleans’s rich literary heritage with theatrical performances, readings, discussions, master classes, musical events, walking tours, and the ever-popular Stella Shouting Contest. It’s not exclusive to Williams, and the roster of writers and publishers participating is impressive. Info at www.tennesseewilliams.net or 504/581-1144.
Hogs for the Cause. No one who has been to Hogs will say New Orleans isn’t a BBQ town. Proceeds from this plethora of porky goodness supports pediatric brain cancer research. Some 85 cleverly named teams of talented pitmasters + rootsy music beside Lake Pontchartrain = darn good times. Ticket options range from $25 to $50. Go to www.hogsforthecause.org.
The Crescent City Classic. This 10k race from Jackson Square to Audubon Park brings an international field of top (and lesser) runners to the city. www.ccc10k.com. 504/861-8686. Saturday before Easter.
French Quarter Festival. The 4-day French Quarter Festival celebrates local music of the traditional jazz, brass band, Cajun/zydeco, or funk variety. The free event has become wildly popular, attracting more than 700,000 people. Scores of outdoor concerts, food booths, art shows, children’s activities, tours, and seminars are set throughout the Quarter, making it easy to return to your hotel for a rest, though some stages are at far-flung ends of the Quarter. Book travel early; this good time is becoming a victim of its own success. www.fqfi.org. 800/673-5725 or 504/522-5730.
Festival International de Louisiane.Some people split their festing between Jazz Fest and the popular (read: big) Festival International in Lafayette. The free, 5-day street fair, which focuses on French music and culture, overlaps with the first weekend of Jazz Fest so it dovetails nicely. www.festivalinternational.com. 337/232-8086.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell (Jazz Fest). A 7-day event that draws musicians, cooks, and craftspeople and their fans to celebrate music and life, Jazz Fest rivals Mardi Gras in popularity. www.nojazzfest.com. 504/410-4100.
Bayou Country Superfest. Country kings from classic to current (George Straight to Chris Stapleton to Kasey Musgraves) headline a Saturday concert in the Superdome, which anchors related events on the days before and after. Tickets $79–$395. www.bayoucountrysuperfest.com. 504/4123-4567. Memorial Day weekend.
Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo.Another weekend, another laid-back New Orleans music, art, and food fest. This one’s themeless, with the pretty location along Bayou St. John (and the rubber-ducky derby) being the draw for the largely local crowd. Bring a blanket, a parasol, and cash for snacks and brews, and go now before it gets too huge. www.thebayouboogaloo.com. 504/488-3865.
New Orleans Wine & Food Experience. Some 10,000 people attend this 3-day gourmandistic pleasure, at which 150 vintners, 75 restaurants, and myriad chefs feature their wines and wares via tastings, seminars, and vintner dinners. The culmination is a grand tasting held at Mardi Gras World, but the party really hit its stride with the Royal Street Stroll, where revelers indulge their way from one tasting station to the next along the closed street. www.nowfe.com. 504/529-9463.
Creole Tomato Festival. This sweet, smallish fest set in the French Market celebrates the 'mater with cooking demos, tastings, a Tomato Parade, and music of course. www.frenchmarket.org. 504/522-2621.
Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival. This growing free fest sponsored by Jazz Fest recently relocated to Armstrong Park in the Tremé. Expect plenty of two-stepping, a few waltzes, lessons for both, arts markets, kids’ activities, and yes, food booths with a seafood focus. www.jazzandheritage.org/cajun-zydeco. 504/558-6100.
Oyster Festival. Aw shucks, it’s a weekend dedicated to slurping delicious Gulf oysters and listening to live music while overlooking the Mississippi River at Woldenberg Park. Local restaurants serve up their best bivalve recipes and pro shuckers compete, all to promote the centuries-old local oyster fishing industry. It’s still free and the crowd is still mostly local. For now. www.neworleansoysterfestival.org. 504/888-7608.
Essence Music Festival. This massive, 3-day event sponsored by Essence magazine consistently presents a stellar lineup of R&B, soul, and hip hop musicians (like Mary J., Kendrick, Usher, Prince [RIP], Chaka Khan, and George Clinton) in evening concerts on a main stage and clublike “Super Lounges.” During the day, this “party with a purpose” offers educational and empowerment seminars featuring A-list (Cosby! Oprah!) speakers and celebs, crafts, and trade fairs. In 2018 ticket prices ranged from $70 for a single day to $3,500 for a VIP weekend package. www.essence.com/festival.
Go Fourth on the River. The annual Fourth of July celebration begins in the morning along the French Quarter riverfront and culminates with a spectacular fireworks display at 9pm. www.go4thontheriver.com. 800/672-6124. July 4.
Tales of the Cocktail. This 6-day mixtravaganza celebrates all things liquor. Based at the Monteleone Hotel but pouring over into other venues, it’s a scholarly gathering of 20,000 hospitality professionals, serious mixologists, and admirers of the cocktail culture. (Read: If you make your own bitters and take 10 minutes to mix a drink, this might be for you. If your drink of choice is a PBR or whiskey neat, pass). The popular events, including “Spirited Dinners” (food and cocktail pairings at local restaurants), fill up fast. Go to www.talesofthecocktail.com. 504/948-0511.
Running of the Bulls. In perfectly imperfect New Orleans logic, Bastille Day, the famed Pamplona event, and the city’s mixed French-Spanish heritage are celebrated with a reenactment of the manic dash, except the bulls are roller-skating Big Easy Rollergirls and other roller derby clubs using plastic bats as horns. Pomp, parties, and hilarity accompany what is now the centerpiece of a 3-day San Fermin in Nueva Orleans fiesta. www.nolabulls.com. 800/672-6124.
Satchmo Summerfest. Louis Armstrong, hometown boy made very good, is celebrated with his own festival, held around his real birthday (he claimed to be born on July 4, but records prove otherwise). There’s food, music, kids’ activities, and seminars, with the emphasis on jazz entertainment and education to ensure that Satchmo lives on. The token $5 admission is well worth it. www.fqfi.org. 504/522-5730.
Southern Decadence. This multiday, multinight dance/party/raunchfest attracts more than 100,000 gay men (and some women) from around the world. The frenzied peak is during the bar-studded parade route. Book rooms early or get a weekend ticket package in advance to save line time; and even if you’re not too hot for leather, September in New Orleans is. www.southerndecadence.net. Labor Day weekend.
Festivals Acadiens & Creoles. Much smaller than the nearby Francophone-focused Festival International, this Lafayette event doesn’t conflict with Jazz Fest. It combines the Bayou Food Festival, the Festival de Musique Acadienne, and the Louisiana Native Crafts Festival. Players, bring your instruments—there’s a jam tent. It’s fun, easygoing, tasty, and free, so spend freely to help keep it going. www.festivalsacadiens.com. 800/346-1958 in the U.S., 800/543-5340 in Canada, or 337/232-3737. Call or check website for exact dates.
Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival. A recent rash of credible BBQ restaurants might finally be changing the city’s low profile in the pantheon of great BBQ destinations. They’ll be strutting their stuff at this free fest, located in Lafayette Park in the Central Business District. Add two stages for blues tunes, a good lineup, and consider our folding chairs strapped on. This one is set to blow up. www.jazzandheritage.org/blues-fest. 504/558-6100.
Halloween. Halloween is celebrated especially grandly in this haunted city, rivaling Mardi Gras for costume outrageousness. The French Quarter is Halloween central (especially for the LGBT crowd), where the Krewe of Boo parade rolls a week or so before Halloween (www.kreweofboo.com); another parade leaves Molly’s at the Market (p. ###) on Halloween Night. Other ghoulish action includes Boo-at-the-Zoo (last 2 weekends in Oct) for kids; and the truly scary Mortuary Haunted House in Mid-City (www.themortuary.net). October 31 and surrounding days.
Ponderosa Stomp. This weekend celebration of early American rock is a mecca for fans and students of all things roots—blues, twang, swamp, thrash, or beyond—who attend scholarly daytime conferences, and nighttime concerts by seminal but largely unheralded performers. www.ponderosastomp.org. 504/810-9116. Call or check website for exact dates.
Voodoo Music Experience. The monstrous 3-day Voodoo Fest draws 150,000 youngish people to the City Park festival grounds, where over 100 acts fill 6 stages and a huge dance space. The diverse lineup features major stars from Metallica to Macklemore and Skrillex to Snoop Dogg, plus up-and-comers and a solid crop of locals. Eclectic art and exotic performances, Halloween-costumed people-watching, and food and drink round out the available diversions. Tickets range from $125 to $1,000. www.worshipthemusic.com.
Words & Music: A Literary Fest. This highly ambitious literary and music conference offers round-table discussions with eminent authors with varying connections to the city; original drama, poetry readings, master classes, and writing competitions. https://faulknersociety.org. 504/586-1609. Mid-November.
Po-Boy Festival. Okay, you could just go to the participating restaurants any other day of the year—surely the wait will be shorter—but there probably won’t be a blessing of the po’ boy. This 1-day fest along Oak Street is crazy crowded, but there are indeed some dang deelish sandwiches and it’s a fun locals’ scene. www.poboyfest.com. Late November.
LUNA Fête. An immediate hit after its 2014 debut, this free, multi-day, multi-location “Light Up” festival uses lighting, music, and video projected onto architecturally significant buildings around Lafayette Square, creating artistic awesomeness. www.artsneworleans.org/event/luna-fete.
Christmas, New Orleans Style. It’s no surprise that the ever-celebratory New Orleaneans do Christmas really well. The town is decorated to a fare-thee-well and there are nightly concerts in St. Louis Cathedral and candlelit caroling in Jackson Square. Bonfires line the levees along the River Road on Christmas Eve (to guide Papa Noël, in his alligator-drawn sled), and house tours offer glimpses of stunningly turned-out residences. Lowered room rates and discounted “Réveillon” restaurant dinners also make this an economically attractive time to visit. www.neworleansonline.com/christmas. 504/522-5730. Throughout December.
Celebration in the Oaks. Thousands of lights illustrating holiday themes bedeck sections of City Park, and a walking and miniature-train tour lets you take in the charm and grandeur at your leisure. It’s simple, affordable, nostalgic winter wonderment for the whole family. Plus there’s ice skating and amusement-park rides. www.neworleanscitypark.com. 544/482-4888. Late November to early January.
New Year’s Eve. The countdown party takes place in Jackson Square and, in the New Orleans equivalent of Times Square, revelers watch a lighted fleur-de-lis drop from the top of Jackson Brewery. Fantastic fireworks ensue. December 31.