Fest sets record for crowds, fun
If you thought last weekend’s French Quarter Festival was the biggest, most music-filled, most food-stocked event ever to be staged in New Orleans’ oldest neighborhood, well, you were right, according to figures released Monday by the event’s organizers. In a jump of nearly 8 percent from last year’s record-setting crowd, about 574,000 fun-seekers converged on the Vieux Carré during the weekend to boogie, feast and enjoy postcard-perfect weather during the festival’s four-day run.
The weather got rave reviews, she said.
“Whoever picked the date for the first festival 29 years ago — the second weekend in April — was just brilliant,” Schramm said. “There was no humidity, and there was a perfect breeze. People asked me, ‘Who did you have to sell your soul to to get this weather?’”
Schramm, who quickly denied any Satanic deals, was equally quick to explain how a festival that sells no tickets can get a crowd count.
Fess Security, which provided security for the festival, did counts at entry and exit points of major stages, she said, and, following a method it has used since 2004, adjusted them down to allow for repeat entrances and exits, she said.
The figure did not include attendance at music stages on Royal, Bourbon, Chartres and Decatur streets, as well as the French Market and such events as Dancing at Dusk and a concert in St. Louis Cathedral, Schramm said.
To allow for turnouts there, “we add a little bit back in,” she said.
Another gauge of the festival’s success was the number of iPhone and Android apps that were downloaded to help revelers keep track of activities on 22 music stages and other festival sites. About 25,000 apps were downloaded, said Philip Berman of Applitite, the apps’ developer.
Contributing to the festival’s success, Schramm said, was the decision to close off the streets around the festival on Saturday and Sunday.
“I think that’s a beautiful thing when you see the people take over the streets,” she said.
Last weekend’s festival was the 29th installment of an event that Mayor Dutch Morial created to lure visitors back to the Vieux Carré after massive street repairs, done in advance of the 1984 world’s fair, had driven people away from the French Quarter.
For most of the festival’s first two decades, attendance was relatively modest.
What turned things around was Hurricane Katrina. Attendance at the first post-Katrina festival, in 2006, bottomed out at 350,000, but turnout has been on a surge ever since, not only because more people are aware of it but also because the cataclysm made people realize how fragile New Orleans culture — the food, the music, the architecture — is, and how it needs to be savored.
This year’s version will start April 27.
Revelers in the Vieux Carré weren’t the only ones celebrating this year’s French Quarter Festival. Restaurateurs were doing greatbusiness, and most rooms in major hotels were booked, said Kelly Schulz, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Figures on the festival’s economic impact are being compiled by the University of New Orleans’ Hospitality Research Center and should be available in several weeks, she said.
International interest in the festival is growing, Schulz said, citing media queries from outlets in Mexico and Great Britain.
“I don’t think there were any surprises,” she said. “It was another example of the unbelievable run of events that the city is on right now: the BCS (college-football championship) game, the Sugar Bowl, the Final Four and Navy Week, and now we’re into festival season.
“I don’t know of any city that’s been able to host so many events that have put us on an international stage, back to back to back.”
John Pope can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3317.
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