NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana's spring festival season kicks off Thursday with what has been called the largest free showcase of Louisiana music, food and culture in the world: the French Quarter Festival.
The festival, which is held on dozens of stages located throughout the historic New Orleans neighborhood, was started to support that neighborhood's businesses during World's Fair street construction in 1983. The 35th edition includes more than 300 acts scheduled to perform through Sunday, including debut performances by Cajun singer and songwriter Zachary Richard (REE-shard), Chocolate Milk, the Sweet Olive String Band and Cyril Neville's Swamp Funk Band.
Returning favorites include Cyril Neville, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Irma Thomas, Jon Cleary, Little Freddie King, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, Amanda Shaw, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers and the Original Pinettes Brass Band.
"This is a banner year for us," said Emily Madero, president and CEO of the nonprofit French Quarter Festivals Inc., which produces the festival as well as the Satchmo Summerfest and the Christmas New Orleans Style concert series. "Not only are we celebrating in conjunction with New Orleans' tricenntennial, we will be showcasing some incredible music. I think we do a good job of curating a diverse musical lineup every year. It's a great time of the year to come out to the Quarter."
Thursday's kickoff includes a morning parade, led by Dejan's Olympia Brass Band, in the French Quarter and a performance later in the day by Irma Thomas.
Madero said new to the festival this year is the Ernie's Schoolhouse Stage, to showcase youth talent.
"This stage evolved with our partner, House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, and we're excited to see how it grows. Some of the best artists in the city are these emerging artists who also will get a chance to attend business education workshops to learn marketing skills to promote their shows and support their musical careers."
A complete lineup can be found at www.frenchquarterfest.org.
Last year, organizers said the festival brought in more than 700,000 locals and tourists. Aaron Neville's performance boosted the 2017 opening-day attendance by more than 60 percent, they said.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said the festival, presented by Chevron, has an economic impact of nearly $190 million.