French Quarter Festival
Fri.-Sun., April 17-19
French Quarter and Riverfront; www.fqfi.com
Gorging on live music is an annual tradition at the French Quarter Festival, long a one-stop shop for New Orleans' club scene. But live oysters? As draws to the 26th annual downtown extravaganza go, the unfortunate stars of the Acme World Championship Oyster Eating Contest (noon Saturday at the Old U.S. Mint) might be a close second.
"It's a huge event," says Marci Schramm, FQF executive director. "The International Federation of Competitive Eating actually comes in from New York. They're the ones who, of course, host the (Nathan's) hot dog eating contest."
The bivalve binge starts with a shucking contest — "the hardcore guys with crazy oyster tattoos." A celebrity-chef showdown, with participants like Duke LoCicero from Café Giovanni and Andrea Apuzzo from Andrea's Restaurant, and a kids' root beer chug follow. And then, Schramm says, come the professionals. "The record was set two years ago — this very small Asian woman ate 48 dozen oysters. It's actually kind of gross," she says.
Of course, nine stages of Crescent City club favorites entice some visitors of their own. They include for the first time the Harrah's Louis-Louis stage, a tribute to Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima, initiated by the latter's estate. Each of the 17 scheduled acts will perform an homage to one of the jazz greats. "That's such an eclectic music stage," Schramm says. "You've got everything from the Zydepunks to reggae bands. Lillian Boutté is going to get up there and do a whole 'Two Louis' show."
A last-minute cancellation led to the launch of a unique courtyard opera. Cabildo (7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Cabildo), Amy Beach's 1932 one-act, will be produced by Keith Marshall of Napoleonville's Madewood Plantation House and performed outdoors by Houston's Opera Vista company. It replaces the previous Opera at Dusk performance. "It's always been a dream of Keith's [to do] Cabildo at the Cabildo," Schramm says. "So we still will have opera at dusk, in a nontraditional way."
Schramm's favorite slot is Dancing at Dusk, which closes the festival at 6 p.m. on Sunday. "It's the most romantic, beautiful thing," she says. "We put the Jimmy Maxwell Orchestra on the steps of the Supreme Court Building (400 Royal St.). They play all fabulous, big-band music from the '20s, '30s and '40s, and everyone dances in the street."
According to a University of New Orleans hospitality research study, the 2008 festival drew more than 435,000 people to the riverfront — a figure split almost evenly between locals and out-of-towners, and one it hopes to eclipse this year. "With a big, free festival that's all about New Orleans, we're really hoping and looking forward to hitting a half-million people again, which is what we hit the year before (Hurricane) Katrina," Schramm says. "We've really stretched the festival area so there's more room for people."