I was chatting with a dear friend recently about festival season in New Orleans. For those not in the know, festival season for us is pretty much from Mardi Gras to The Jazz and Heritage Festival. I said to her, “Forget Christmas, festival season in New Orleans is the most magical time of the year!” And it is. Just about every weekend you can find a festival that includes amazing local music, delicious food, and happy people as far as the eye can see. For me though, Jazz Fest is the Christmas morning of my childhood wrapped up in the sounds of music, smells of meat pies and dust from the track at the Fairgrounds. I’m usually sun kissed, stuffed and happy by the end of the day, but as I get older (ouch) I find I lean more and more towards the VIP side of things. So here are my thoughts on how to do Jazz Fest VIP style!
First and foremost you should decide which passes you want to get. Each of these offers different things and people often have different reasons for getting them. Personally I am a Brass Pass girl, which is purchased from the local non-profit radio station WWOZ and helps them stay funded throughout the year.
- Brass Pass – $550 – This pass is sold by WWOZ and benefits the station, which is a non-profit radio station, but gets you in and out privileges every day of the festival, gives you access to the WWOZ tent at the fairgrounds (which has amazing iced coffee, water, fruit, SHADE and clean restrooms) This will not get you backstage or side stage at any of the music stages but worth it if you want to support local radio.
- Big Chief VIP – $1200 weekend 1 – $1400 weekend 2 – This pass also allows re-entry, access to the VIP Grandstands set up at the big stages, access to an air-conditioned hospitality lounge (worth it if you can’t handle a ton of sun and heat) and you can purchase VIP parking. This pass does not get you to the front row area but you can tack on the Grand Marshal for access.
- The Grand Marshal VIP – $975 weekend 1 – $1125 weekend 2 – This pass is much like the Big Chief but not quite as all encompassing. You still get re-entry, but the hospitality area is a tent, like WWOZ, and not the climate controlled lounge like you get with the Big Chief. You do however get access to the “Golden Circle” which in layman’s terms means front row standing room only.
So you bought your pass, now what? Now you book a car service. Your options are limited on parking in the neighborhood surrounding the Fairgrounds. It is all street parking in residential areas. So first you have to worry about getting towed, or if you are lucky you may find a parking “lot” (usually someone’s yard) that is less than $40 per day. Second, you will run into a lot of street parking that is blocked off (illegally) in front of residents so the people that live there don’t lose their spots. I highly recommend lining up a car service ahead of time. Tell them what time you want to be there (when the gates open of course) and then tell them what time you want to leave (closing time of course) but make sure that your car service can come get you early if you tap out! (There is little shade at the Fairgrounds and if you aren’t used to the heat and humidity in New Orleans, it’s very easy to overdo it.)
That’s it! That’s all there is to doing Jazz Fest VIP style. If you can find someone that works at Acura you can certainly score yourself some backstage passes at the main stage, but part of the fun of the festival is to be around all the music fans that show up in droves from around the world.
In addition to the daytime activities at the fairgrounds, the music scene at night is unbelievable. There is always a high chance you will see some of the big names acts sit in with local bands at clubs that are so intimate it hurts. One of my favorite VIP style nightlife activities is to buy the “Golden Ticket” from Tipitina’s. This ticket is $500 per weekend (so $1,000 total for both weekends) and gets you into every show and most nights there are 2 shows per night. 100% of the proceeds are donated directly to Instruments A Comin’, which has provided $3.15 million worth of musical instruments to 101 school band programs in Louisiana.
There is often little time between the end of the Fairground’s sets and the beginning of the nighttime sets, but in addition to the awesome music choices there is an endless list of fine dining restaurants to choose from in this town. Try not to over commit to dining out while you are here. The Fairgrounds are open every day from 11 AM to 7 PM and most club shows start their first sets as early as 8 or 9 PM. My best advice is to stay the entire week and catch your fine dining Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday nights.
My final piece of advice is to stay hydrated! Whether you are VIP or not, it’s a long day outdoors and New Orleans is in a sub-tropical environment, which means heavy-duty humidity. It’s very easy to drink cold beers all day, eat to your heart’s content, and love the music while forgetting to drink tons of water. Have fun and be safe!