The organizers of the French Quarter Festival and Satchmo SummerFest's obsession with records calls their accomplishments into question.
Today, French Quarter Festivals Inc. (FQFI) sent out a press release titled, "The 15th Anniversary Satchmo SummerFest presented by Chevron - A New Orleans Festival for the Record Books." It begins:
The fifteenth anniversary celebration of Satchmo SummerFest presented by Chevron was truly a New Orleans festival for the record books. In addition to celebrating the incredible growth and success of recent years, organizers commemorated the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a special symposium of 'New Orleans musical first responders'. Satchmo SummerFest received unprecedented attention in 2015 with local, national, and international media coverage and attendance, from outlets such as People Magazine, The Washington Post, Associated Press, New York Times, ABC News, The Guardian UK (U.S. edition), National Public Radio, Los Angeles Times, Parade Magazine, Downbeat Magazine, and more.
Satchmo SummerFest, a true celebration of the life, legacy, and music of Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong, always falls on the weekend closest to his birthday - August 4th (Armstrong would be 114 today). Festival programming includes a Satchmo Symposium; more than 40 musical performances by the 'best of the best' of New Orleans Traditional Jazz, Brass Bands, and Contemporary Jazz; Pops' Playhouse for kids; as well as a number of special events including:
No mention of any record. After "including," the press release goes on to list Satchmo SummerFest programming, and in the third paragraph, it says:
French Quarter Festivals, Inc. produces three festivals annually, including Satchmo SummerFest presented by Chevron. The 2015 festival introduced a nominal admission charge ($5/day with children twelve and under free). Attendance numbers shifted downward from 2014, but festival organizers are very pleased with the fifteenth anniversary celebration, as 36,602 locals and visitors from all over the world celebrated Louis Armstrong on his birthday weekend. Prior to Satchmo SummerFest's opening day, the New Orleans Convention and Visitor's Bureau reported that citywide hotel occupancy was projected to be over 80% for festival weekend - a very impressive number for the month of August in New Orleans.
Still no mention of a record, and attendance was actually down.
FQFI claims records with such regularity that they are hard to take seriously. Days after many recent French Quarter Festivals, FQFI claimed record attendance despite no ticketing or reliable method of head-counting (not including a soggy 2015). This disappointing thing about these claims is that they seem unnecessary. Crowds at French Quarter Festival in recent years tell the story of the festival's popularity and success, regardless of records. Instead of embracing their successes, FQFI add a note of doubt by claiming as a record a calculated number that theoretically accounts for people that festival staff missed and those who pass checkpoints more than once in a day.
The Satchmo SummerFest suggestion that this year's festival is somehow record-breaking is shaky to start with, and even the claim for being a hotel draw is squishy--not a concrete number but "over 80%," and that is just an estimate made before the festival began.
FQFI should be commended for continuing Satchmo SummerFest, a festival with two strikes against it. As important as Louis Armstrong is, he's no longer the sort of dynamic presence in our national culture that would motivate a broader audience, and certainly not in dead of a punishing summer. Every person at the U.S. Mint for the festival is a success, and FQFI would serve itself and its events better if it simply tallied up the real, tangible wins and told their stories instead of ginning up false good news that throws the shadow of doubt over its accomplishments.