The question of whether or not to bring kid(s) to the Jazz Fest comes up every year. When asked, my first response is always a resounding “No,” because I’m selfish and I love the freedom of running around with my husband, checking out new bands, worshiping the old, and hopping around to visit friends, some of which I only see once a year… at the Jazz Fest. All of this is very difficult to do while dragging a little one around because, let’s face it, kids don’t like to walk.
Having said ALL that, the real answer is Yes AND No.
Yes, you should take your kid to the Jazz Fest, but only for a few hours.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is one of our city’s major cultural events. As a local, it’s important for our kids to be part of our community and appreciate the uniqueness that is New Orleans. The Jazz Fest is part of our city’s modern narrative, and anyone who lives here understands that there is a rhythm and flow to New Orleans life. Jazz Fest, in a way, marks the end of our celebratory season… which is about 6 months long. Exposing kids to their community’s cultural and musical traditions creates a shared identity and a sense of belonging to something bigger.
Jazz Fest is as much New Orleans as New Orleans is Jazz Fest. Kids need to be exposed to the special parts of our city, even if it’s only for a few hours. Eventually, the sites, smells and feel of the Jazz Fest will sink into their bones and become part of who they are and where they come from. They will be glad you loved them enough to sacrifice your own enjoyment for the sake of their cultural and musical development.
Jazz Fest is an opportunity to expose kids to live music. How many kids can say they’ve worshiped in a Gospel Tent or seen musical legends of their time? Even if they don’t appreciate it right now, they will thank you later. Also, music is the kind of stuff that makes kids interesting and smart. It’s important that kids get out of the bubble. Disney isn’t the only thing they should be looking forward to.
As parents, we want our kids to experience this cultural bliss and appreciate it as much as we do. Alas, this is not always the case, which is why you really need an in-and-out strategy. Two to three hours is enough for the kids to hear some great music, eat some great food and rendezvous with some friends, so have a babysitter pick them up at the gate so the kids can marinate in their experience (at home) and you can be free to enjoy the adult time without the whining. It’s a win-win. If a babysitter (or some other arrangement) isn’t an option, then cut your losses and leave on a high note as a family. Yes, it is an expensive few hours. You’re either comfortable with that or you’re not.
Lagniappe (this means “a little something extra… like a bonus)
Something awesome happened to us this Jazz Fest. A girlfriend of mine came up to me at carpool and asked me if Anson, my seven year old, would like to come to the Fest with her family for a few hours to see her son perform at the Kids Tent. Her husband would drop them off at the gate, they would stay for 2 hours and then her husband would pick them up at the gate and bring her home. Anson jumped in their car and headed to the Fest like a big girl. She had a great time. The lesson here is that if someone else wants to bring your kid to the Fest, say YES! There is nothing wrong with your kid experiencing cultural bliss with someone else. In fact, it’s a good thing.
Now for the other side of the coin.
No, you should not bring your kids to the Jazz Fest.
The reason you don’t see too many miserable parents lugging/wearing/strolling around their miserable kids at the Jazz Fest is because they had to leave. If it’s your one day to go to the Fest and you’ve paid a lot of money for tickets and/or travel and you don’t have the luxury of sending the kids home, you do not want to bring the kids. The Jazz Fest is an expensive, all-day endeavor. The odds are not in your favor that your kid is not going to rain on your parade.
Sometimes the stars align, you find the perfect spot, the kids have a little shade and space to dance and play in the grass, it’s not scathingly hot, there are no torrential downpours, and no one has to potty. If this is you, congratulations. There is something so sweet about having a great Jazz Fest with your kids. It’s one of those beautiful memories that you all will look back on and smile. And the only thing you should leave the Jazz Fest with is a smile.