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New Orleans Jazz Fest at 50: Keep on Rolling (Without the Stones)

For its golden anniversary, the Crescent City festival looked to both the past and the future

Mardi Gras Indians at the 50th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Mardi Gras Indians at the 50th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (photo: Joel A. Siegel)

The Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is its only properly indoor venue, inside the grandstand of the Fair Grounds Race Course on whose grounds the festival’s other dozen or so stages and tents are spread out. Miner, who died of cancer in 1995, was working at Tulane University’s Hogan Jazz Archive when George Wein, the impresario behind Newport Folk and Newport Jazz, came around looking for young music fans to help find local talent for his brand-new New Orleans festival. She introduced him to her boyfriend, Quint Davis—then a student, now Jazz Fest’s top producer and director, and its de facto face for nearly all of its 50 years.

Miner, who went on to manage artists like Professor Longhair and the Rebirth Brass Band, cared deeply about musicians’ stories. It was through her efforts that the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that owns the festival, started an archive to document its history. The stage that bears her name is where local authors and historians sit in conversation with Jazz Fest performers, and on the stormy opening Thursday of the big 50th-anniversary festival, its attraction was her two old friends and coworkers, Wein and Davis, telling stories that stretched back half a century. (In a nice bit of symmetry, a tribute to Miner herself was held at her stage on the fest’s closing Sunday.)

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Alison Fensterstock

Alison Fensterstock is a former music writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and a columnist for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities magazine, 64 Parishes. Her work has also appeared in Rolling Stone, NPR Music, MOJO and The New York Times