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Financially, New Orleans Fest Disappoints

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation is being forced to cut back on staffing, salaries and donations after the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival brought in an estimated $600,000 less than expected this year, the Associated Press reported. The festival, which celebrated its 35th anniversary April 23- May 2, 2004, cost $10 million to organize.

The loss of revenue is unexpected for the Jazz and Heritage Festival, which normally pulls in an excess of funds from the event.

“It’s the first time since the ’70s that revenues have not exceeded expenditures,” Louis Edwards, associate producer of the festival, told AP.

A final report on the festival’s expenditures and revenue is currently in works, but the preliminary report by Festival Productions, Inc., an organization the foundation hires each year to produce the festival, reports that the festival drew about $600,000 to $900,000 less than expected. David Oestreicher II, first vice president of the foundation’s governing board, said $600,000 is a good estimate, according to AP.

The Jazz and Heritage Foundation has laid off half of its eight-person staff and may be forced to cut back on its charity programs due to the loss. Festival Productions has also been asked to cut spending. The company, owned by music festival impresario George Wein, is expected to cut a week or more from the usual 10-month production schedule of some of its 90 seasonal employees.

The Jazz and Heritage Foundation donates over $1 million annually to special groups and programs in order to continue to qualify as a non-profit foundation. These include the radio station WWOZ, jazz workshops in public schools, neighborhood jazz festivals, second-line parades, jazz funerals for musicians and the Don Jamison Heritage School of Music, which provides music instruction to middle and junior high school students.

No decisions have been made about specific cuts, however, the amount of money for “special programs” could be cut substantially based on what the final figures show, Byron Hughey, foundation treasurer, told AP. Special programs may include: hiring a police escort for neighborhood second-line parades, contributing money to neighborhood music festivals and paying for jazz funerals.

Several reasons have been suggested for this year’s drastic loss. Smaller crowds have been attributed to stormy weather on four of the festival’s seven days, including rain so bad that one day of the festival—Friday April 30—was cancelled. The cancellation affected numerous acts, including Harry Connick, Jr.

A lower number of international tourists resulting from the Iraq war and 9-11 has also been cited as a possible reason for the festival’s shortfall. In an article in Offbeat magazine, writer Jan Ramsey suggests that people’s unwillingness to travel has been compensated by the increasing number of regional music festivals, thus lowering the attendance of New Orleans’ jazz festival. Ramsey also notes that ticket prices have soared to $25 per day—a price too high for many New Orleans locals.

The festival is the largest source of revenue for the Jazz and Heritage Foundation, followed by their annual gala and grants. The foundation is currently considering other ways to raise money, including a second major fundraiser and corporate sponsors for both the entire jazz festival and individual stages.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is considered one of the country’s premier music festivals and normally draws more than half a million people. More information on the festival can be found at