A lot of things could happen now that The Rolling Stones have canceled their Jazz Fest gig, but most of them won't. How might the cancellation be good for local artists?

jazz fest announcement screen shot
Jazz Fest breaks the news.

New Orleans has spent the weekend envisioning replacements for The Rolling Stones in line with their personal preferences and visions for Jazz Fest. Most were improbable for one reason or another. Artists who would be a comparable event are unlikely to be available on such short notice, even to Quint Davis and AEG Live. Miracles can certainly happen, but don’t bet on U2 or Beyoncé. 

First, the tickets for that day were nominally for Thursday, May 2 at Jazz Fest, but they were really tickets to see The Rolling Stones with Jazz Fest opening. The ticket roll-out was done to ensure that Stones fans around the world had a shot at seeing the show, and the fans who spent that money wouldn’t be satisfied if they got Adele instead. Working out the money is likely to be the single most complicated part of what comes next as the Stones decide if there will be a New Orleans date when the tour is rescheduled, and if it is, will the Jazz Fest tickets be honored for it. If Festival Productions—Jazz Fest’s producers—wants to book another mega-star, will they charge a higher amount for a second premium ticket or simply honor the first? Or do they refund the Stones tickets and start over? Or … what? That sounds dizzying to sort out.  

Those who envisioned another mega-star will probably be disappointed because those artists don’t typically do anything spontaneously, nor do they find Jazz Fest appealing because the festival’s 7 p.m. closing time makes most elaborate light shows superfluous. The festival’s no-frills presentation is at odds with the shows they’re accustomed to staging, and they consider their shows an expression of who they are. Beyoncé’s stage shows have been essential to her image, so it’s hard to imagine her without  one. That attitude is part of what makes these artists the successes they are, but since McCartney first featured lasers in his show in the 1970s, an essentially unadorned show is a big ask. When Davis announced that The Rolling Stones were going to play Jazz Fest, he proudly proclaimed that he had convinced them to work in the festival’s spartan conditions, and it was clearly part of a lengthy negotiation. He’s not going to have the time to convince another A+-lister to make the same choice.

Then there’s the problem of finding artists whose shows are events. Regardless of how you feel about the appropriateness of The Rolling Stones at Jazz Fest, you have to concede that it had become something bigger than a rock show. Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band isn’t an event because he has played the festival three times under the usual ticket structure, but it’s also a big ask for Springsteen to mobilize the band and crew and get them all ready to take off and do one show. On the other hand, Springsteen on his own doing a Bruce on Broadway show would be a logistically manageable event. It means putting a much smaller machine in motion, but it also means asking fans sprawled across the Acura infield to shush and stay shushed while he tells intimate stories, and it would mean convincing Springsteen that he could get—or create—the kind of intimacy that would make such an experience successful. That sounds like another big challenge.

It is far more probable that the day will become a conventional Jazz Fest day with the usual ticket structure and schedule. Davis will do his best to book the biggest Fest-appropriate act, and he’ll likely do better than any of us thought possible. That band won’t be the Stones, but it will be someone with broad appeal. It will likely be someone already on tour or about to go on tour. If May 2 goes this way, it will be a boon to New Orleans’ musicians because the simplest, most logical way to fill out the other stages’ lineups by adding local artists earlier in the day to stages that already had headliners—Mavis Staples closing The Blues Tent, Tom Jones at Gentilly, and Ziggy Marley at Congo Square. That would make space for at least another 10 to 20 artists since there are usually six acts a day on each stage and there are only four at the moment. 

Some sort of Stones tribute by New Orleans musicians headlining Acura that day is improbable. It makes New Orleans music sense, but it wouldn’t satisfy Stones fans, and its primarily appeal would be to the Never-Go-To-Acura Set. The show could be great, but Jazz Fest was built 50 years ago to help bring tourists to town, so a headliner’s job is to sell tickets.

None of this speculation is based on any insider knowledge, by the way, and just as Voodoo got a miracle when Metallica subbed for Green Day with less than a month to go in 2012, Jazz Fest could get lucky. Still, people go broke betting on long shots, and it’s far more likely that the solution to the Stones Problem will be to make the day more normal. If that happens, New Orleans musicians could be the beneficiary of Mick Jagger's misfortune.