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Organizers Plan Bigger, Better JazzFest For Post-Katrina New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS, LA (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) – Unlike the other announcements this week regarding a scaled-down Mardi Gras and the relocation of the Essence Music Festival, organizers of the 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival intend to put on one of the best events yet at the Fair Grounds beginning on its traditional weekend in April.

“The goal is, unanimously, to try and hold a major Jazzfest here,” David Oestreicher, president of Jazzfest’s governing board, totld the Times-Picayune. “One that hopefully will be a world-shaking event…We think that we will be the watershed event that will jump-start the tourist economy for this part of the world.”

The board that owns Jazzfest met Thursday for the first time since Hurricane with Quint Davis, whose Festival Productions Inc. New Orleans produces the event.

Also present at the board meeting was AEG Live that co-produced this past year’s festival, and Churchill Downs Inc., the Louisville, KY company that bought the Fair Grounds in 2004.

They emerged from the meeting with an ambitious plan: to stage the 2006 Jazzfest in its traditional season and at its traditional home at the Fair Grounds.

“The foundation is dedicated to seeing that this is the best Jazzfest ever,” said Don Marshall, executive director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, to the paper. “Our intentions are to make sure that it is on the same scale (as 2005), if not larger.”

Organizers plan to announce definite plans for Jazzfest ’06 by mid-December.

“There are some ifs,” Ostreicher admitted to the paper. “We are vigorously addressing the logistical problems. I couldn’t be more positive.”

Organizers face monumental challenges, from hotel rooms to infrastructure to marketing to locating musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, social aid and pleasure club grand marshals and artists scattered around the country. Unlike years past, the festival may need to transport and house even local musicians.

“The musicians who make up the heart and soul of the festival are no longer in the neighborhoods here,” Marshall told the paper. “So we’re going to be responsible for getting them back here. The additional expense is going to be significant. But we’re committed to that. This festival will probably be the biggest homecoming of New Orleans musicians.”

Jazzfest’s diehard fans are also widely dispersed.

“We don’t know where our audience is right now,” Marshall continued. “The Jazzfest lovers who have been going for 30-some years who lived in Mid-City and had their best friends from the East Coast come spend a weekend and sleep on the floor…that may not be happening. We need to do as much as we can to have New Orleanians return.”

Marquee artists such as Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel and the Rolling Stones, who have all performed at Katrina benefits or donated money to relief efforts, may be invited to perform at this year’s festival.

“Our No. 1 commitment is to New Orleans and Louisiana musicians,” Marshall told the paper. “But I think we'll see some new faces at the festival. There were some wonderful collaborations taking place over the last couple of months, and hopefully those can be built upon. The programming potential is phenomenal.”

“There are names that have been mentioned (for Jazzfest) that could raise us to heights undreamed of,” Oestreicher said.

Normally, headlining acts are booked by November, but no one has been locked down for 2006 yet. Davis and his FPI team reoccupied their downtown office just last week, but they had already begun re-establishing contact with displaced musicians. Many appeared at the Sept. 20 benefit called “From the Big Apple to the Big Easy,” which Davis co-produced.

Everyone involved in the upcoming Jazzfest claimed a new sense of purpose to the paper.

“Jazzfest always makes a powerful statement about the vitality of New Orleans culture,” Edwards to the Times-Picayune. “We realize that more than ever before, what happens with the festival will be a comment on the state of New Orleans culture post-Katrina.

“With that in mind, we're focused and working as hard as we ever have to make the festival a reality.” –by CelebrityAccess Staff Writers