French Quarter Festival is tempting New Orleanians to sneak out of work early Thursday afternoon and enjoy what it calls "locals lagniappe day." The festival begins one day earlier than usual and has four stages offering music from midday through early evening.
"We're calling it 'play hooky from work day,'" says festival director Marci Schramm.
Music begins at noon with the Preservation Hall-Stars performing in Jackson Square. Bonerama headlines the eclectic Thursday lineup, which also includes funk band Iris May Tango, Irvin Mayfield and Bill Summers' Los Hombres Calientes, Bag of Donuts and others. The number of stages varies the following days from 11 locations on Friday to 20 on Sunday.
"There has been a lot of pressure to do two weekends," Schramm says. Organizers have expanded the festival, but not that much. "We added stages and added a day," she says.
The growing festival showcases more than 350 musicians this year. Most performers are from Lousiana, but there are international acts as well. The festival features a wide array of musical genres. On Friday, musical highlights include Glen David Andrews teaming up with Amanda Shaw, and the Cajun sounds of the Lost Bayou Ramblers. Saturday's headliners include Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, bluesman Little Freddie King, chanteuse Ingrid Lucia, jazz duo Tom McDermott and Evan Christopher, and Russell Batiste and Friends featuring Jason Neville. Sunday brings the Latin grooves of Los Po-Boy-Citos, John Mooney and Bluesiana, the Mardi Gras Indian funk outfit 101 Runners, former Dirty Dozen Brass Band sousaphonist Kirk Joseph's 504 Brass Band, Zydepunks, Wanda Rouzan and A Taste of New Orleans, Bill Summers and Orchestra Yoruba Afro America, Rockin' Dopsie Jr. and the Zydeco Twisters and Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots.
Local musician Ingrid Lucia grew up performing in the French Quarter and has witnessed the festival's development over the years as well as its expanding audience.
"It's gotten larger and more organized," Lucia says. "More people are coming from all over the world.
"It's great for local musicians. It gives them the opportunity to be exposed to new audiences and increase their fan base."
The festival is expanding its presence in the historic district both along the riverfront and on Decatur Street. This year's total of 20 stages is the most the festival has fielded. The Latin and world music stage returns to the festival after a two-year hiatus. The House of Blues is sponsoring the new stage on the 100 block of Decatur Street. The stage featuring Cajun and zydeco music has been moved to the Canal Street side of the Aquarium of the Americas, where there is more room to accommodate the crowd. Dance lessons will be offered as well.
"The Cajun and zydeco stage was so popular we needed a lot more room for the zydeco dancers," Schramm says.
As usual, stages are spread throughout the French Quarter, with several smaller stages along Royal and Bourbon streets. Music venues Preservation Hall and Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse will host music through the day and evening during the festival.
Special events include the 15th Annual New Orleans International Music Colloquium, held at the Jazz National Historic Park with different seminars Friday and Saturday. On both of those nights, the documentary The Sound After the Storm, about local musicians dealing with post-Katrina recovery, will screen at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre.
A crawfish-eating contest is scheduled Saturday at noon at the Old U.S. Mint. The festival closes Sunday evening with Dancing at Dusk, featuring big band standards from the 1930s, '40s and '50s on the 400 block of Royal Street.
A family and kids' area is located on the riverfront. Activities include face painting, tai chi, karate and yoga for kids, activities presented by the Louisiana Children's Museum, a collage project, music in the Kid's Tent and more.
The festival also is keeping up with technology via a new app for iPhone. (Forget your lighter? Don't worry; the app has an encore flame feature). The French Quarter Festival iPhone app allows users to access live schedule updates, artist descriptions, a map detailing music, food and other activities, and it has a schedule-planning function.
French Quarter Festival attendance has increased steadily post-Katrina, with last year's more than half million guests surpassing 2005 attendance numbers — and there's an increasing percentage of out-of-town attendees.
What's next for the festival?
Schramm says expanding into the Marigny or Armstrong Park is a possible next step.
Visit www.fqfi.org for a full schedule of music and special events.