A Bluesman’s Tips for What to See, Eat, and Do at NOLA’s Jazz Fest

Slide guitarist Roy Rogers, headlining the blues tent this year, shares his favorite haunts and tunes

Inside a seafood restaurant bar, people sit at the counter under warm lighting


Inside Pêche, one of the Crescent City’s favorite fish houses.

Named after the film star and TV cowboy, blues musician Roy Rogers is considered one of the world’s finest slide guitarists. An eight-time Grammy nominee, he has played with John Lee Hooker, Steve Miller, and Sammy Hagar. Just off tour with Bonnie Raitt, Rogers will be headlining the blues tent on the opening day of the 2024 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which runs April 25 through May 5.

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Each year more than half a million people attend the two-week festival, where six hundred bands play across fourteen stages. The lineup is a musical mix: jazz, blues, funk, soul, R&B, hip-hop, Cajun, Zydeco, and international music. “It’s like a cross-pollination of genres,” Rogers says. “Imagine Dixieland bands making music with rappers.” 

photo: courtesy of roy rogers
Blues musician Roy Rogers.

When Roy and his NOLA-born wife, Gaynell, return to her hometown, they skip the big-name headliners and go see local artists who rarely play outside Louisiana. “This is a festival that covers a lot of ground and history on American music,” Rogers says. “Not just jazz and blues, but Cajun, country, string bands, international music from Cuba and Brazil.” Here are his recommendations for enjoying both the festival and the Big Easy in general:

How to Plan

General admission tickets start at $85 for a single-day ticket and escalate to VIP passes with on-site parking, shuttle service, and private viewing areas. (This doesn’t include this year’s Rolling Stones show, tickets for which are already sold out.) Jazz Fest takes place at the Fairgrounds, about three miles from the French Quarter, near New Orleans City Park. Bands play simultaneously across stages within the festival, and the majority hail from New Orleans or elsewhere in Louisiana. The Jazz Fest lineup is so robust it can be overwhelming. Rogers recommends downloading the Jazz Fest app, which makes it easy to browse the schedule and add a particular show or food or craft vendor to your personalized itinerary. 

Inside tip: Jazz Fest performances end at 7 p.m., early enough to grab dinner and choose from hundreds of bands playing at other venues throughout the city. (Grab a copy of the Gambit Weekly for local listings.) But make dinner reservations as late in the evening as possible, because it takes a while to get out of the fairgrounds, and you’ll want time to shower off those layers of sunblock, sweat, and track dirt. 

Where to Stay

Le Pavillon

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A four-block stroll from the French Quarter, this 226-room hotel on Poydras Street first opened its doors in 1907 as New Hotel Denechaund. Its seven themed guest suites are appointed with stellar amenities: a library, a baby grand piano, or a carved marble bathtub said to be a gift from Napoleon himself. During Prohibition, partakers accessed the lobby bar, Cachette (French for “hideout”), through a secret passage to protect the city leaders who gathered there for cocktails and meetings. Rogers suggests sipping a French Martini at the Brunswick mahogany bar beneath a Czechoslovakian chandelier. “I love the old-world style and grace of this place,” he says. “Plus, it’s a great location for walking in and out of the Warehouse District, which has tons of restaurants and two great museums—the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the World War II Museum.” 

Inside tip: If you’re from Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, or Florida, ask for the “Gulf Coast Resident Rate” and save up to 20 percent off best available rates.

Where to Jam

At Jazz Fest: The Gospel Tent

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“The gospel tent is always front and center for us,” Rogers says. “It’s like church—with five thousand people.” Try to catch the Zion Harmonizers, founded by Sherman Washington, the original Gospel Tent coordinator (whose images appear outside the tent each year.) Rogers plans to be there to watch Irma Thomas, “the soul queen of New Orleans,” who has been playing at Jazz Fest since the 1970s. Known for her mix of originals, traditional songs, and tributes to Mahalia Jackson, she will perform in the gospel tent on Saturday, April 27, and at her regular Jazz Fest show on Sunday, May 5. 


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Opened by local musicians in 1977 in a building that previously served as a brothel, gambling house, and gymnasium, this beloved venue is named after a song by legendary New Orleans musician Professor Longhair, whose signature blues piano style blended mambo, rumba, and calypso. The spot where the Neville Brothers and the Meters once played to local crowds, Tipitina’s is now owned by the members of Galactic, a local funk band that founded the Tip-It Foundation to promote the music, culture, and heritage of the Gulf South. “Tipitina’s is the quintessential music venue to get a flavor of new and old in New Orleans,” Rogers says. 

Maple Leaf Bar

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Mentioned in a lyric from Roy Rogers’s song “Crawfish City,” the Maple Leaf is one of the longest continuously running music clubs in the Crescent City. This Uptown neighborhood watering hole hosts live music seven nights a week, with talent ranging from Grammy Award winners to up-and-comers and local legends like the Radiators, the Rebirth Jazz Band, and “Money Mike” Armstrong. Grammy Lifetime Achievement winner George Porter Jr. and his troupe play every Monday night. “I love this smaller venue,” Rogers says. “Go and see all the brass bands and be prepared to stay up late and maybe see the sunrise—it happens here all the time!”

Inside tip: Before the show, have dinner next door at Jacques-Imo’s Café (more on this below).  Named in homage to the song “Iko-Iko,” Jacques-Imo’s is famous for swamp-themed décor and chef Jacques’ Cajun fare, from seafood bouillabaisse to shrimp-and-alligator cheesecake. The wait can be equally famous—two hours or more—because reservations are not accepted for parties of four or less (but are required for five or more.) 

Rock ’n’ Bowl

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A famous “only in New Orleans” spot (until a second one opened in Lafayette), Rock ’n’ Bowl is a terrific mashup: bowling alley, bar, and live music venue. Host to a Zydeco night every Thursday, the stage showcases a lineup of other acts during Jazz Fest. The menu isn’t fancy but does feature boudin balls and a fried bread pudding po’boy dessert from Ye Olde College Inn. “It’s a great place to dance,” Rogers says. “Try to catch Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. or Chubby Carrier.” 

Where to Eat

Locals consider Jazz Fest not only the greatest music festival in the world, but the greatest food festival in the world. “Without leaving the fairgrounds, you can eat better than just about anywhere else,” Rogers says. Red beans and rice. Crawfish étouffée. Rosemary-mint ice tea. Bread pudding. Shaved ice with fruit-flavored syrup and condensed milk from Plum St. Snoballs. Everyone has a favorite dish, whether it’s the pheasant and quail gumbo from Prejeans or the Cochon de Lai po’boy. (Some hard-core foodies even bring Tupperware and Ziploc bags to bring food home on the final day.) 

If you’re not stuffed when the festival shows conclude around dinnertime, consider the city’s award-winning restaurants as the next great act. Here are a few of Roy’s favorites: 

Frankie and Johnny’s

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Established in 1942, this haunt in the West Riverside neighborhood Uptown is the place to go for no-frills seafood suppers—gumbo, boiled shrimp, fried catfish, chargrilled oysters—that have fed hungry dock workers and river merchants for generations. Frequented by locals, this neighborhood restaurant is now owned by David McCelvey, former top chef at Emeril’s, who found little to improve when he took over in 2014. “Order the crawfish boil with red potatoes and corn,” Rogers says, when it’s crawfish season (March through June).

Acme Oyster House

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Yes, it’s on the tourist track. Yes, you’ll face French Quarter crowds and a wait. “It’s worth it,” Rogers swears about this well-known seafood joint, where the staff shucks oysters at the bar with precision and serves them ice-cold. If you don’t like ’em raw, order oysters fried or chargrilled and sizzling in savory herb-butter sauce. “This place has a classic down-home vibe,” Rogers says, “and their shrimp po’boys are my favorite in all of New Orleans.”

Pêche Seafood Grill 

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A collaboration of three James Beard–decorated chefs—Donald Link, Stephen Stryjewski, and Ryan Prewitt—Pêche is consistently ranked among the best restaurants in New Orleans. Supplied by local fishermen and sustainable farms, the fare is fresh, rustic, and simply prepared on an open hearth with live-fire techniques used in Spain, South America, and the Gulf Coast. Roy’s wife, Gaynell, has already booked a reservation here to celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary. “They have the best roasted fish ever and well-done, creative veggie plates,” she says. 


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Chef Emeril Lagasse’s fourth concept restaurant in New Orleans, named after his youngest daughter, puts an international spin on some of his favorite dishes: Korean-fried chicken wings, poke nachos with kimchi and jalapeño, and a grilled ribeye with blistered peppers and chimichurri. “We love their smoked small fish dip, daily gumbo, and crispy rock shrimp tacos,” Rogers says. “Order lots of fresh seafood and inventive small plates to share.” 

Listen to Roy Rogers’s picks for gearing up for Jazz Fest: