- The Washington Times
Thursday, April 16, 2020

NEW ORLEANS — For the first time since its inception, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival — Jazzfest as it is known to the world — has been canceled.

Organizers had earlier postponed the two-week festival that unfolds in the last week of April and first week of May, but Thursday announced the days of music, food and crafts would not be held in 2020 due to the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Jazzfest traditionally draws more than 500,000 people to its outdoor stages erected inside the racetrack at the Louisiana Fairgrounds. The show has gone on through fires and severe weather, but the respiratory virus proved too much to overcome, especially as New Orleans is reeling from its late February Mardi Gras celebration that experts believe circulated the coronavirus widely.

“It takes something truly momentous to interrupt a 50-year New Orleans tradition as special as the Festival, but we feel strongly that the most prudent course right now is to allow more time for the situation to stabilize,” the festival’s producers’ statement read. “We thank everyone for their patience as we have considered all of the matters necessary to making this difficult decision.”

Jazzfest began as a small event, showcasing legendary New Orleans musicians such as Professor Longhair, and eventually would become a familiar event for the city’s stars such as Dr. John, Allen Touissant, the Neville Brothers and, currently, Trombone Shorty who traditionally presents the final show.

But it grew internationally, too, and many of the world’s top musical acts have appeared there at one time or another. Bruce Springsteen had a famous appearance after New Orleans was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, and Bob Dylan has given memorable performances. The Rolling Stones had to cancel an unprecedented concert scheduled in 2019.

This year’s slated lineup included The Beach Boys, The Who, Stevie Nicks and other international stars. Tickets already purchased will be good for the 2021 Jazzfest, producers said.

During its half-century, Jazzfest has become the second most important event economically for New Orleans, its eight days topped only by the three weeks that comprise Carnival leading up to Mardi Gras.

This week, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she believes New Orleans, which depends heavily on major tourist events and a steady stream of conferences, should not host any major events for the remainder of 2020.

Her declaration immediately triggered speculation about what the New Orleans Saints, whose football season towers over the city’s fall and early winter schedule, might do and if the Superdome would be open. Professional sports leagues such as the NFL and Major League Baseball are grappling with how to put on a season with much of the country in shutdown mode and practicing social distancing.

Immediately after Ms. Cantrell made her recommendation Tuesday, the Essence Festival announced it would not be held in 2020, wiping out one of the premier African American annual events in the U.S.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.