The (Unofficial) Rules of Jazz Fest

Or, how to not get arrested or punched in the face


As any anthropology minor from a state school knows, culture, broadly defined, is basically a set of rules for a specific group of people. What we eat, what we wear, what we do and don’t worship, are governed by rules that people made up and agreed to follow for the greater good. And, like all civilizations, the inhabitants of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival have their own social mores. Whether it’s your first time at Jazz Fest or you need a refresher, here are a few unofficial rules to guarantee you have a bon temp.


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Know the actual rules.

As there are stars in the sky, so too are there confiscated bottles of liquor at the Jazz Fest gate. Do yourself a favor and read the real rules before you head to the Fairgrounds. Hey guy with the 50-quart cooler filled with craft beer – leave it in your hotel room.


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If you do sneak in contraband, partake discretely.

I’m no saint. I may, or may not, have smuggled alcohol into a festival or two via a diaper bag. But now I’m on the righteous path (since my son no longer needs a diaper bag). If you have broken the rules, don’t be flagrant about it. Especially when it comes to illegal substances. The people on the blanket next to you could be off-duty police officers, or recovering addicts or both. The smell of your wacky tobacky could get you into trouble. Save it for Red Rocks.


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Respect the blankets, but ignore the camp sites.

There are some people who treat the grounds of Jazz Fest as if they hired a realtor and took out a mortgage to buy that spot at the Acura Stage. Those people… well, they’re annoying. Don’t be those people. Don’t bring four giant tarps and create a “saved space” bigger than my shotgun house. Do respect the folks who have put down their one blanket, and try to walk between the blankets when you can.


Don’t complain about the musical act. Leave and find one you like.

Picture this: you have saved up your money to afford to spend a day at Jazz Fest. The highlight of your day is getting close enough to the Congo Square Stage to actually get hit with the sweat off of Big Freedia’s forehead. But this guy behind you won’t shut up about how miserable he is, and how he just “doesn’t get it,” and “that one dancer is too big to be dancing like that,” and… shut up! Just. Shut. Up. Walk away. Rather than complain loudly to your companion about the performers, go explore and find something that suits you. With 13 stages, you are bound to discover music you’ll love. 


You went to kindergarten. You know what lines are for.

Jazz Fest Koan: If you can’t see the beginning of the line, does the line exist?

Yes, the line exists, and the people in front of you are also hungry, thirsty or in need of the facilities. Be patient. Bring a friend. Make friends with the people in line next to you. Don’t budge.



Whether you are buying a beer from the Rotary tent or still going strong at d.b.a. at 2:00 a.m., tip! This is America, where we underpay our service workers, musicians, teachers, coaches… so tip at the beer tents, food stands, clubs, bars and restaurants you will frequent while you fest. Start at 20 percent and go up from there.


Wear shoes.

Y’all, it’s horse manure.  


Be kind.

More than 400,000 people will attend Jazz Fest this year. That’s a lot of tired, sweaty, sunburned, mildly drunk people. Be kind to each other. You never know when someone just had the best or worst day of their lives.



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