Friday, April 9, 2010

Living for festivals

Today marks the start of two well-regarded festivals in and around New Orleans. For those of us who love the country, there is the Pontchatoula Strawberry Festival, a three-day affair with the heralded Louisiana strawberry at the epicenter of praise and attention that must be paid. It should be an impressive opportunity for everyone to enjoy the juicy, red aggregate fruits in a variety of fashions: from chocolate covered to preserves and beyond. The lineup of musicians include The Wise Guys, Bag of Donuts and Amanda Shaw. Typically, there will be strawberry eating contests and the like. It's good, clean family fun and a crate of strawberries is something of a bargain for those who drive to the sleepy old town. Instead of driving the 50 minutes or so to Pontchatoula, many more visitors and residents will flock to the busy Vieux Carre, the home of the French Quarter Festival. A slew of stages with a huge roster of local stars will continue throughout the weekend with activities not winding down until dusk on Sunday. In terms of numbers the French Quarter Fest is the largest annual festival held in the city and relatively young. The reason is that the cost is free to the public, unlike the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or the Essence Festival, which charge patrons hefty fees for admittance Parking costs $20 per slot - a 25% increase over regular weekend rates - and off street parking is virtually unavailable. While the names of the performers are not as hallowed as those at the Jazz or Essence Festivals, they are local luminaries and well-regarded purveyors of such widely varying forms of music as traditional jazz, funk, Cajun, classical, contemporary jazz, rock, soul, samba, cabaret, swing, beepop, Latin, Mardi Gras Indian and everything else in between. Several evening venues at hotels and a riverboat jazz cruise will require a ticket for admission, but all of the stages on city streets like Bourbon, Royal, Woldenberg Park and the French Market are free. It is a love fest to the city and one that signals the true blossoming of spring in the city. Food and drink are available for a price at four different locations throughout the festival. Typical costs are $5.00 per item. Jazz Fest will arrive in two weeks and that also is typically the onset of the hot and humid days of summer, even though summer is officially many months away. There is only one bad word that can be uttered over the course of the weekend and that word is rain. The weather forecasters suggest virtually no chance of that for the weekend, so it should be clear skies, lively music, delicious food and lots of family fare fun in the mix. Laissez les bon temps rouler.

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