Must-attend festivals for musical families who enjoy the vibrant culture of New Orleans, a wonderland of rich food, and an endless array of entertainment.
While most people associate New Orleans with raucous partying, the essence of The Big Easy is really its rich history of live music that’s exemplified in its numerous music festivals. And no worries if you’re not into jazz - the festivals here are super diversified, offering everything from the tried and true Cajun-Zydeco, to reggae and alternative jams.
However, the seemingly endless music gatherings hosted in New Orleans are not created equal when it comes to family friendliness. So for families traveling to this wild and wonderful hotspot of history for its thriving music scene, we’ve weeded through the offerings and selected those that not only provide exceptional venues and lineups, but also offer an ambiance that’s appropriate for children (at least before the sun sets.)
Convenience Tip: If possible, snag a hotel or vacation rental close enough to the festival to walk, or close enough to allow for a quick Uber or Lyft ride. This allows you to easily take a break when the kids (or you!) need down time.
Safety Tip: For younger kids, it’s best to keep them strapped to your chest, in a stroller or directly next to you in a crowded festival. But just in case you get separated, write your cell number on their forearm so an adult can easily call if they find your child. If your kids are old enough to roam on their own, set a time and place to meet, especially because cell batteries can die and service might be unreliable.
In regards to hearing-safety, bring noise-cancelling headphones for little ones who might be sensitive to the amplification.
Money Saving Tip: While festival food can be a great option for special treats (we’re looking at you beignets), it can get expensive and is often lacking in nutrients. So do you body and wallet a solid by packing a backpack with healthy snacks and water.
VooDoo Music Experience
Dates: October 25 - 27
Location: City Park
Price: $140 - $400
This is an ideal festival for families with kids in middle or high school, as it often features bands that appeal to them. For example, past lineups have included The Weeknd, Tool, Rebelution, Band of Horses and other well-known acts.
In addition, the fact that this three-day experience kicks off on Halloween weekend, in one of the most eccentric cities in the world, elevates it from a mere music festival, to an unforgettable gathering flush with a riveting crowd of music-lovers dressed in some of the craziest costumes you’ll ever see. Because of these multiple layers of appeal, VooDoo Music Experience is an epic, euphonic adventure sure to etch a special place in your heart.
Dates: June 22 - 23
Location: Louis Armstrong Park
Bailey’s clearest childhood memory is of going to a Cajun-Zydeco dance hall outside of Lafayette with her parents, where the crowd split their time between gorging on fried catfish and beer at picnic tables surrounding the dance floor, and partaking in the wildest dance moves she’d ever seen, as a live band played tunes that demanded your body move. She loved it, and still finds her body involuntarily dancing whenever it hears, or even thinks of, Zydeco music. It’s that good.
You can gift your kids with similar memories by taking them to New Orleans’ Cajun-Zydeco Festival where the best of the best musicians and dancers convene to create an experience that makes the soul do a happy dance. Be sure to wear your dancing shoes, as even those who claim they “can’t dance” will be cuttin’ a rug by the end of the day. And if you’re nervous you might be judged if you don’t know the “proper” way to dance to this genre of music, don’t, the people are the friendliest you’ll ever meet and so wrapped up in their own reverie they won’t be judging yours’.
Dates: January 6th – February 25th
Location: All over the city
Price: Most events are free
Welcome to the Mack Mama of NOLA festivals. Carnival, which runs from January 6th to the day before Ash Wednesday, encompasses the boisterous festivities leading up to the party apex of Mardi Gras, and is filled with live music, parades, bright costumes with lots of feathers, and beads… so many beads. If you want to immerse yourself in the true spirit of New Orleans, this festival is a must – and, don’t forget to dress up!
As some of the Carnival festivities can be too intense for kids, we recommend being selective about which you attend. Our favorite Carnival activities for families include the Zulu Lundi Gras Festival, Children’s Day at Lake Charles Civic Center, and the following parades…
- Krewe of Rex: Best viewed from Saint Charles Avenue
- Krewe of Endymion: Best viewed from Canal Street
- Krewe of Orpheus: Best viewed from Tchoupitoulas Street
- Krewe of Iris: Best viewed from Saint Charles Avenue
* Krewe refers to the group that organizes a particular parade.
Additional attractions, which can add some context to the Mardi Gras experience, include the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu and Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World.
Tip: It’s best to steer clear of the French Quarter during Carnival, as this is where the most belligerent crowds can be found.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Dates: Apr 25 – 28 and May 2 – 5
Location: Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
Price: $70 - $85
If you’re a fan of jazz there’s no better place to celebrate the soulful syncopations of the genre than in the “Birthplace of Jazz.” While jazz is a prime player in the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival line up, the festival also features indigenous music of New Orleans and Louisiana, such as R&B, gospel, Cajun, Zydeco, blues, folk, Latin, rock, bluegrass and more, offering a full-on education in the sounds of Louisiana. To get the whole family excited, let them know that past lineups have included Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Kings of Leon, Alabama Shakes and Meghan Trainor.
Be sure to check out the Kids Tent for music that’s appealing to the younger crowd, and head to the Fais Do-Do, Blues or Gospel tents when you need shade and a chair, as these tents are often less crowded. The heritage portion of this festival is accented in the Louisiana Folklife Village, Louisiana Native Nations area, Cultural Exchange Pavilion, and the (air-conditioned!) Grandstand.
Tip: To score a discount on accommodations, go here to book a room at one of the hotels where the festival has secured reduced rates.
Dates: October 11 – 13
Location: Pontchartrain Park Playground
This is a fun festival that draws out local New Orleans families looking for an affordable way to keep their kids occupied - so it’s a great way to mingle with NOLA residents. There’s music playing almost non-stop at a main, gospel and kids’ stage, with music genres including blues, jazz, pop and soul. Beyond the music, the Kids' Village is a child’s wonderland with pony rides, dance performances, a New Orleans Fire Department fire truck, face painting, an imagination playground, pottery making, garden crafts, rock climbing, storytelling and more. And when the kids get hangry, there’s vendors serving up poboys, fried green tomatoes, bread pudding and other local favorites.
Adding to the appeal of this festive get-together is the fact that it supports local organizations, such as the Police Department, Fire Department, EMS, and other neighborhood do-gooders.
French Quarter Festival
Dates: April 2 - 5
Location: French Quarter
As average temps in New Orleans range from the low 60s to high 70s in April, it’s the ideal time to spend four days wandering the French Quarter, basking in the goodness of local Big Easy music, and treating yourself to delights like bacon and Nutella crepes and pecan pie cheesecake. And because the festival’s optimally located in the French Quarter, you should be able to snag a hotel or vacation rental that’s within walking distance of one of the many festival areas – as long as you book about six months in advance.
Besides the high-energy live music, our favorite features of the French Quarter Festival are the free dance lessons offered by the NOLA Jitterbugs, and the Children’s STEM Zone. This kid zone features stimulating, interactive activities that showcase each of the seven continents, and the galaxy, all while mixing elements of “STEM” - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math - into the hands-on learning activities.
Tip: Book a hotel near the Children’s STEM Zone, which is located on Toulouse Street at the Natchez Wharf on the River.
Dates: May 17 – 19
Price: $10 - $20
Bayou Boogaloo is just as fun to attend, as it is to say, and combines art, food and live tunes for the perfect price of free. Adding to the appeal of this laid back Spring gathering is its picturesque location along the banks of Bayou St. John. As you roam the waterside festival grounds you’ll be treated to reggae, Zydeco, soul and other genres pumping out good vibrations.
When you’re ready for a break from the music, water sports like kayaking and stand up paddle boarding can be enjoyed, as equipment rental companies post up near the water’s edge. And be sure to check out the festival’s Battle Paddle, which consists of numerous canoe and kayak races. In addition, The Ruby Slipper Cafe Kids Stage features kid-geared programming, while the Arts & Crafts tent adjacent to the stage offers adult-led art projects.
If this has inspired you to book a family trip to the Big Easy, let us know and we just might join you for a full immersion in the joy of living - or as they say in Creole “joie de vivre.”