Spring in New Orleans: Highlights
Photo by Trevor Mark
Spring is peak festival season in New Orleans, when there’s so much going on it’s tough to choose what to do. Our best advice? Wherever you go, there you are. Some of the city’s most magical moments are spontaneous celebrations you never would have encountered if you stuck to your agenda.
That said, there are some don’t-miss events that should be on everyone’s to-do list, even if you happen to get sidetracked by something else along the way.
Depending on when Easter falls, Mardi Gras day can occasionally extend into March. But even when it doesn’t, locals have barely recovered from Carnival when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, which is marked by several raucous parades.
The great-granddaddy of them all? The Irish Channel Parade takes over Magazine Street with floats full of revelers tossing shamrock beads and heads of cabbage, followed by kilted whiskey-tippling marchers who stagger along behind them trading paper carnations for kisses. There’s also a Downtown Irish Parade that launches in Bywater, and a Molly’s at the Market throwdown in the Quarter. Parade dates and routes vary from year to year, but you can get the lowdown on them all at New Orleans St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
On the heels of St. Patrick’s comes St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), when many local Catholic churches and private homes build elaborate altars laden with food to honor St. Joseph, and pass out lucky beans to people seeking his blessing. Come nightfall on St. Joseph’s, Mardi Gras Indians hit the backstreets in spectacular hand-beaded suits and feathers to play hide-and-seek with locals and visitors eager to catch a glimpse of Indians in the wild.
March goes out like a lion with a cacophony of ear-blasting yells of “STELLA!!!” and “STANLEY!!!” during the Stella & Stanley Shouting Contest that marks the end of the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival.
Festival season kicks into high gear in April, when live music takes center stage throughout the entire month. Freret Street Festival jumpstarts the action the first Saturday of April with three music stages and hundreds of food, drink and craft vendors.
Whenever it falls, Easter brings its own triumvirate of parades. The historic French Quarter Easter Parade rolls in mule-drawn carriages and convertibles to attend 11 a.m. mass at St. Louis Cathedral. Then Bourbon St. legend Chris Owens leads her own brass-band parade through the Quarter.
French Quarter Festival, a free music extravaganza that takes over the entire Quarter in mid-April with 20+ stages of local music from traditional jazz to zydeco, has become the city’s biggest magnet for out-of-town visitors. Many of them also stick around for the city’s other premiere music event: the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2019.
Held at the New Orleans Fair Grounds for two consecutive four-day weekends at the end of April and beginning of May, Jazz Fest remains a mecca for music lovers from around the world, and features national headliners along with a bounty of local New Orleans and Louisiana musicians. While the epicenter is at the Fair Grounds, Fest-related live shows abound at clubs throughout the city and spill into the streets almost anywhere you go.
The days may get hotter in May, but the good times just keep rolling. Held in mid-May, along the lovely banks of the Bayou St. John in Mid-City, Bayou Boogaloo gets bigger every year. It now draws dozens of homemade flotillas of festers, who float along the bayou while music wafts across the water from several stages.
Later in May, further up the Bayou, New Orleans’ large Greek community celebrates its heritage at the annual Greek Fest. Held on the grounds of the beautifully ornate Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the lively festival is a feast for the eyes and ears. The aroma of fresh spring lambs turning on spits over open air grills whet the appetite as festers uncork bottles of retsina on the banks of the bayou or join joyful circles of Greek dancers under the setting sun. Opa!