The festival said it will move to the fall. What weekends make the most sense?

lizzo photo
Will Lizzo still be on the lineup when Jazz Fest finally takes place?

Last Tuesday, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell announced that the event has been postponed.

At the direction of City of New Orleans authorities, in response to ongoing COVID-19 health concerns, the 2020 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell will not occur this April and May, as scheduled. The health and safety of the community, our musicians, Festival fans, participants, sponsors and staff are paramount, and we urge everyone to follow the guidelines and protocols put forth by public health officials.

Jazz Fest 2020 will now take place in the fall.  We will announce exact dates and additional details soon.  All purchases for the original dates will be honored for the fall dates.

Thank you for your support and patience, and we look forward to seeing everyone this fall.

The announcement doesn’t mention new dates, nor does it mention possible refunds, but Jazz Fest has never been the friend you scold for TMI. And in this case, the tight-lipped approach makes sense. Organizers have time to survey the fall window for the best time for the festival—not only best for New Orleans but for attendees from around the country and prospective talent. Who’ll be available to play it? Foo Fighters were scheduled to play Jazz Fest this year, but recently they announced that they—like everybody else—were postponing their spring tour in a very Dave Grohl way. He wrote:

Hi, this is Dave. Remember me? The guy who wouldn’t even postpone a show when my goddamn leg was falling off?

Well… playing a gig with a sock full of broken bones is one thing, but playing a show when YOUR health and safety is in jeopardy is another…

We fuckin’ love you guys. So let’s do this right and rain check shit. The album is done, and it’s fuckin' killer. The lights and stage are in the trucks, ready to go. The SECOND we are given the go ahead, we’ll come tear shit up like we always do. Promise. 

So far, Foo Fighters have rescheduled three dates from the tour that was to start April 12, and shows in Oklahoma City, Albuquerque and Phoenix have moved to December 1, 3, and 5 respectively. Would Foo Fighters be open to start the tour in mid-October and play Jazz Fest? That’s likely in negotiations, particularly since Coachella and now Bonnaroo provide a few high-profile festival dates that the band might want to fold in to that tour. And since the concert business cratered, all of the festivals are looking to see who will be available when, and what the talent market will look like in the fall. 

One factor that might slightly complicate Jazz Fest’s date is Bonnaroo moving from June 11-14 to September 24-27. Suddenly, late September through the end of October will be crowded with music festivals. Here’s what that window looks like now:

September 4 weekend: Buku

September 11 weekend: open

September 18 weekend: open

September 25 weekend: Bonnaroo

October 2 weekend: ACL first weekend, French Quarter Festival

October 9 weekend:  Coachella first weekend, ACL second weekend

October 16 weekend: Coachella second weekend

October 23 weekend: open

October 30 weekend: Voodoo

Three of those festivals are out of town, but ACL (in Austin), Bonnaroo (in Manchester, Tennessee), and Coachella (in Indio, California) affect Jazz Fest because they will all be trying to book some of the same touring acts. Since Jazz Fest has some aesthetic and audience overlap with Bonnaroo, it’s hard to imagine the festival running opposite it, nor does it seem likely that it would want to run in the two open weekends in September since September can be miserably hot with the threat of hurricanes. 

It couldn’t run in New Orleans opposite French Quarter Fest, so the October 2 weekend is out, and October 9 would also be tough as Jazz Fest would compete with two major festivals for touring talent. With Voodoo starting October 30, the weekends of October 16 and 23 seem like the most probable. It would compete for talent on the first weekend with Coachella on the first weekend, but Jazz Fest would be an easy jump for artists playing ACL in Austin to get to New Orleans a week later. 

That would make for an insane October in New Orleans with a festival every weekend but one, but the only other option is the first two weeks of November. The racing season at The Fair Grounds starts around Thanksgiving, but Voodoo is often the last call for summer tours. Trying to get touring talent a week or two later would be hard under normal circumstances, but obviously, this is not a normal year.

Bonnaroo’s postponement is worrying since the festival comes more than month after Jazz Fest. Moving it this far out may simply be out of an abundance of caution, or it may reflect concern that the economy won’t bounce back in time for people to travel to a destination festival. People who are out of work right now due to stay home orders may not have the disposable income in June to spend a weekend at a festival, even if they've already bought their tickets.

The choice may reflect concern that the concert industry won’t be as healthy as necessary in June, or that the spread of Coronavirus won’t have been sufficiently retarded for a festival to be safe. Hopefully, the postponement will seem premature come June, but the choice makes Essence Festival’s current plans to run as initially scheduled with a lineup that includes Janet Jackson and Bruno Mars seem optimistic. In a statement released on March 13, Essence Communications wrote:

Based on the latest information, including increasing public health interventions and measures being implemented domestically and internationally, and the considerable amount of time to assess and respond to developments between now and July, we are planning to proceed with the 2020 Essence Festival of Culture as currently scheduled, July 1-5 in New Orleans. Still, as a precautionary and proactive measure and with health as the foremost consideration, we are also identifying and securing alternate dates to ensure that we can adjust as quickly and seamlessly as possible in the event that circumstances require.  Should that happen, we will honor all tickets sold for prior scheduled dates.

I hope Essence, Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest and Buku all have good festivals, whenever they run, and it would be great if Essence can run on schedule. Not only are they financially good for artists and the city, but they’re normalizing. In a regular year, they’re crazy interruptions of our everyday routines, but this year we could use some interruption.