French Quarter Fest pushed through some seriously stormy weather last weekend to keep the party going across the Quarter from Thursday – Sunday. With a whopping 23 stages, the fest was bigger than ever and drew an impressive amount of visitors to the city (hotels were 98% full) for the largest free music festival in the South. The weather made it difficult for everything to attend according to plan, but dipping into a Quarter bar or restaurant while the storm passed wasn’t the end of the world. In the end the fest drew upwards of 386,000 people across four days, making it about half as crowded as the record-breaking 2014 fest. Not such a bad thing for those who remember the excessive crowds from last year.
With so many stages and huge crowd, French Quarter Fest can be as daunting as it is fun. But buried amidst the crowds and endless musical offerings usually lies that perfect stage that offers great performances in an intimate setting. This year that stage was the BMI Songwriter Stage, comfortably nestled in the courtyard of the Historic New Orleans Collection and well off the beaten path. Although the stage was only utilized on Saturday due to the inclement weather, some of the best performances of the fest went down there.
Having only thirty minutes, the singer/songwriters had to craft a tight and meaningful set to leave a lasting impression on the audience. Making her solo debut, Alexandra Scott played to the packed courtyard and was accompanied by Sam and Jack Craft (of Sweet Crude). Scott kept the crowd in the palm of her hand as she played material from her 2014 album, I Love You So Much Always.
Lafayette native Sean Bruce delivered a striking set as the dark clouds of the coming storm gathered overhead. Backed by Stevie Billeaud on guitar and Jesse Reaux on banjo, Bruce’s voice echoed throughout the courtyard, and the listeners appeared to enjoy every minute of his performance.
Local bluesman and incredible talent Colin Lake seems to be everywhere these days — from headlining the best clubs in town to playing intimate solo shows. Lake received a warm welcome to the BMI stage for his second of three performances of the weekend and tried his best to get a few songs in before the rain came down. Unfortunately, the rain cut off the power to his amps before he could finish his first song, but Lake didn’t miss a beat and belted out the rest of the song before being told the stage would have to be closed until the storm passed.
As French Quarter Fest continues to grow, it’s somewhat comforting to know you can still stumble upon something truly special like the BMI Songwriter stage. Here’s to hoping the festival continues to build out the small stages around the Quarter for both the unique experiences and dispersion of the crowds away from Woldenberg Park.