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A first-timer's guide to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

The annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, or simply Jazz Fest, is a massive springtime music and cultural festival that takes place over two consecutive weekends in late April and early May. Many music lovers of all ilk consider it the country's premier music festival and return year after year. Others have called it the best party in America.

The name Jazz Fest is somewhat misleading, as jazz is only one component of the festival's musical offerings. Performers represent a wide range of genres including jazz, rock, blues, gospel, R & B, Cajun, zydeco, folk, bluegrass, African, Caribbean and Latin. Non-stop performances take place on a dozen stages scattered around the festival site. In addition to music, there's a huge selection of regional cuisine, arts and crafts booths, second line parades and numerous other attractions.

Over its seven-day run, the festival typically attracts around 400,000 visitors. Jazz Fest is really big and big-time fun.

When and Where
Most people attend Jazz Fest for only one of two weekends, though some stay for the duration. The first weekend begins on the last Friday of April and runs through Sunday. After a three-day hiatus, festivities begin again on Thursday and conclude on Sunday. The dates for Jazz Fest 2011 are April 29-May 1 and May 5-8. The festival takes place at the Fair Grounds Race Course in the Mid-City section of New Orleans, about three miles from Downtown and the French Quarter. Daily hours are from 11am to 7pm which leaves fest-goers time in the evening to explore the city's famous restaurants, bars and clubs.

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