41 Years and Going Strong—French Quarter Festival Celebrates New Orleans Culture

41 Years and Going Strong—French Quarter Festival Celebrates New Orleans Culture

Jackson Square events during French Quarter Festival

Posted April 9, 2024

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The 41st edition of the French Quarter Festival, taking place from April 11th to 14th, 2024, will once again enchant the French Quarter with a celebration of the city’s music, art, and food. Over the course of four days, between half a million to a million people will gather in the French Quarter, making it one of the largest free music festivals in the country.

A Musical Showcase

Spread across multiple stages nestled within the historic district, the festival boasts performances by renowned local musicians representing a wide array of genres. From jazz and blues to Cajun, zydeco, funk, and beyond, the festival sets the stage for both traditional and contemporary sounds that embody the spirit of New Orleans. Visitors can expect to sway to the rhythms of brass bands, tap their feet to the melodies of jazz legends, and revel in the infectious energy of street performers.

Music remains the heart and soul of the French Quarter Festival.  Without the civic engagement of many New Orleanians, the festival would not have reached and sustained the success it has enjoyed over five decades.

Interview with the O.G. ladies of FQFI. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick
Interview with the O.G. ladies of FQFI. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick

“It was really the brainchild of Mayor Dutch Morial,” says Sandra Dartus, the former Executive Director of French Quarter Festivals, Inc.—FQFI—the nonprofit organization charged with managing the event.  Dartus, who ran the organization for eighteen years, recalls conversations with the former mayor leading up to the first year of the festival and says:  “In preparation for the World’s Fair, we had tons of street and sidewalk repairs going on. The merchants in the French Quarter were complaining, and Dutch said, ‘Let’s throw a festival and bring them back,’  and that was truly the inspiration in 1984 for the first French Quarter Festival.”

Art, Culture, and Heritage

Beyond the captivating music, the French Quarter Festival celebrates the cultural heritage of New Orleans. Art exhibits, street performers, and cultural demonstrations create a lively atmosphere, allowing attendees to explore the city’s artistic and cultural traditions. From vibrant paintings and sculptures to crafts and handmade jewelry, the festival offers a platform for local artists to showcase their talents and engage with festivalgoers.

“There’s no other place in the world anyone should want to live but New Orleans and have all the culture, tradition, food, family, because we are the heartbeat, says attorney Debora Moench, who came to New Orleans from Nashville in 1975 and sensed early on a passion and exuberance that you don’t see in other cities.  Moench, an FQFI board member and volunteer since 1984 says: “I was an employee of Darryl Berger, who was an initial participant with the mayor at the time, in the committee of businessmen who had come together to develop the festival and get it started that first year. “ 

From selling T-shirts in 1984 to various committee and chairperson roles, Moench says the festival has become a big part of her civic life. “Once you get started, you develop a passion, and once that passion gets a hold of you, you simply don’t want to let go, you want to be a part of it,”  Moench says of her five decades involvement with the festival.

Culinary Delights

No celebration in New Orleans would be complete without indulging in the city’s renowned cuisine. The French Quarter Festival proudly embraces the culinary heritage of the region, with an extensive selection of food vendors offering a mouthwatering array of dishes. From classic Creole and Cajun delicacies to po’ boys, jambalaya, gumbo, and beignets, the festival presents a tantalizing gastronomic journey. Visitors can savor the flavors of New Orleans while exploring the festival grounds, creating a multisensory experience.

That makes the French Quarter and the Festival special in the eyes of  Janice Foulks, a resident of the French Quarter and an FQFI board member who served as the organization’s president from 2007-2008.  Foulks  says:  “What’s so interesting about the neighborhood of French Quarter, it doesn’t matter what your career was like ever before. You come together for the passion and the love of the area and to promote the food, music and culture and what a better way to do that now than through French Quarter Festival.”

Family-Friendly Fun

Foulks says one way the festival accomplishes this is by incorporating children and parents in the programming, helping them understand the uniqueness of New Orleans and develop a passion for the city’s distinctive culture. In addition to the music, art, and food offerings, the festival features a dedicated Kids’ Stage, where young ones can participate in interactive performances, arts and crafts activities, and educational workshops. Families can enjoy the festivities together, creating lasting memories and fostering a love for the vibrant culture of New Orleans.

Famiilies enjoying the music at French Quarter Festival. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick
Famiilies enjoying the music at French Quarter Festival. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick

“I was not involved in the festival in early days, except to be a passionate goer to the festival,” says Foulks.   “The Jackson Brewery had just developed a complex of stores immediately across the street from Jackson Square.  I remember the very first festival and coming over to grab lunch while I was working part time across the street. Then my husband and I moved to the quarter in the early, late eighties, and after that we became really involved in the festival, says Foulks. 

Foulks adds, “I would go to hang out at Jackson Square, where my neighbor,  Lee Siegel, one of the founders of the festival was running headquarters and she put me somewhere to sell beer, t shirts, whatever she needed. So, it was a great experience to come in at that.”

Beyond the French Quarter’s Legacy

Beyond the celebratory nature of the festival, the French Quarter Festival serves as a platform for preserving and promoting the unique heritage of the historic French Quarter. The event highlights the architectural treasures, historic landmarks, and cultural significance of this iconic neighborhood, encouraging attendees to appreciate and support its preservation.

Dartus adds,  “What makes us different than Jazz Fest, we’re free.  We’re here in the French Quarter. You are seeing New Orleans and that’s what makes us different. These are our people.  This is our festival.  The French Quarter is for everything and everyone, and we are showcasing everything that makes us different and apart than the rest of the world.”

As the French Quarter Festival enters its fifth decade, it continues to evolve and adapt while staying true to its mission of showcasing the rich culture of New Orleans. The festival has been a catalyst for revitalizing the French Quarter and has become an integral part of the city’s identity. It serves as a testament to the resilience, creativity, and collective spirit of the New Orleans community.

Food vendors in Jackson Square during FQF. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick
Food vendors in Jackson Square during FQF. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick

Whether you’re a local resident or a visitor from afar, the French Quarter Festival offers an immersive experience that captures the essence of New Orleans. It’s a celebration of music, art, food, and togetherness—a tribute to the vibrant culture that makes the city unique. And as the festival founders and dedicated volunteers look back on over four decades of memories, they continue to shape the festival’s future, ensuring that the French Quarter Festival remains a cherished tradition for years to come.

For more information about the French Quarter Festival, visit FQFI.org.

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