New Orleans French Quarter Fest kicks off Thursday

April 11, 2012 - 2:46 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — French Quarter Festival kicks off Thursday with a performance by the Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band, the first New Orleans brass band to win music's highest honor.

Rebirth won this year's best regional roots music award for its "Rebirth of New Orleans" album.

Hundreds of Louisiana musicians will perform Thursday through Sunday on 22 stages throughout the French Quarter.

The festival started as a small event for locals 29 years ago but has grown into one of the largest free music festivals in the country.

This year its stages will be at Jackson Square, on Bourbon Street, in the open-air French Market and the grassy park along the Mississippi River and elsewhere in the Quarter.

In all, about 800 musicians will perform Cajun, jazz, blues, gospel, zydeco and funk.

Besides Rebirth, the lineup includes Cyril Neville and the Royal Southern Brotherhood, blues singer Deacon John, clarinet player Pete Fountain, singer-songwriter Theresa Andersson, Cajun fiddler Amanda Shaw and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews.

Last year roughly 500,000 people attended the festival, said Marci Schramm, executive director of French Quarter Festivals, Inc.

Kelly Schulz, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the festival fills New Orleans hotels and generates close to $300 million for the city.

Besides music, the festival offers affordable food from some of the city's finest restaurants, including Antoine's oyster bonne femme — oysters and crabmeat in a rich sauce with cheese — as well as Muriel's crawfish and goat cheese crepes and Tujague's beef brisket. Louisiana standards like gumbo, po-boys and jambalaya are also served.

There is no admission, but vendors sell cocktails and food to help subsidize the event. Private and corporate sponsors pay for the musicians.