This is almost always held the last weekend in April (Friday to Sunday) and the first weekend in May (Thursday to Sunday). It is lots of fun, with a more mature crowd than Mardi Gras (you won’t see any bare-breasted women on this trip), and it is definitely something for everyone.
To be honest, this was not a trip I was looking forward to. It was a gift (from me) to my husband for his birthday. He had been dying to go and I figured, how bad could it be? It is definitely one of the best festivals we have ever been to. It is extremely well-organized and attended, with lots of food, lots of entertainment, and plenty of security. We bought the tickets in advance through Ticketmaster, and it allowed us entrance any one of the 3 days (that week). Meaning, we did not need to commit to a day in advance. At the time, the tickets were $18 per person.
The best way to get there is via bus. The most popular location to catch the bus is in front of the Sheraton Hotel. The fare was about $10/per person roundtrip and it brought you directly to the New Orleans Fairgrounds. This is definitely the best way to get in and out of the fest and definitely the most efficient. It is a decent drive, and if you plan to drink while there, it’s just not practical to drive back.
The crowd varies… I think it’s safe to say that there are at least 100,000 people there at any given time. It is a very controlled crowd and very mellow by all accounts.
Dress casually and comfortably. Don’t bother bringing any food or alcohol with you – everything but one bottle of water per person is confiscated before you are allowed onto the grounds. I do recommend taking a blanket or a fold-up chair (like the ones that fold into a small canvas bag). The only places with seats are under the tents, so if you plan to watch any of the shows/music going on at the outside stages, you will need something to sit on (most of the stages are outdoors). In addition, I would recommend a hat and/or some heavy sunscreen. You will be outside most of the day, and if you’re drinking, you won’t realize how hot it gets.
Overall, there were about 15 or so stages, and after receiving a schedule (when you walk in), you find that you can stop and see about 10 to 15 acts at any given time. The music varied from gospel to country, from jazz to rock, and even to Dave Matthews. To keep things fresh and to keep people coming back, the headliners vary ever year.
Most of the vendors selling food are run by nonprofit organizations, and the food is broken up by areas. You can’t go wrong here. Everything is fresh, fast, cheap, and delicious. Some of the delicacies include crawfish (a big draw here), gumbo, etoufee, and fried everything else. There are no tables to sit and eat, just high tables to stand and eat. Booze is in large supply as well – hello, you are in New Orleans. Hurricanes are the local specialty, so try one out.
There are also vendors selling trinkets, art, music, T-shirts, etc. The booths were sporadic, but some contained beautiful pieces and it was worth a glance to say the least.
Overall, it was a great and perfect time to visit New Orleans. Go early and make a day of it. The shuttle runs constantly throughout the day, so you can always leave if you’ve had enough. Note: Bathrooms are porta-potties - keep in mind that you are on fairgrounds.