You want to go to Jazzfest, but the budget is tight. Now, bear in mind that what one person considers cheap may seem expensive to others, but here are some hints for those of you with less money than time.
Bus and Train
If flights are too expensive, New Orleans is also served by Amtrak and Greyhound. The train and bus stations are both at 1001 Loyola, in the far corner of Downtown.
The cheapest way from the Airport to downtown is the E2 Downtown Express bus, run by Jefferson Transit. Fare to downtown (Elks Place / Tulane & Loyola) is $2.00. It's a 45 minute ride, plus the wait for the bus, and depending on your hotel location, you may need to hoof it, take another bus or a cab from Elks Place to get there. Compare the cost to shared ride shuttle ($20) or taxi (the greater of $33 or $14/person, plus tip).
Always the cheapest option. Do be aware that the the locals have a term for out of town friends who visit this time of year: "Jazzpests". If you want to be invited back next year, treat your hosts well.
Here's a link to area campgrounds. A car is recommended, since none have public transit to the Fest. Don't forget the bugspray.
One Fester passed this info along, back in 2003:
Camping at KOA West: $23/nite for tent pad or parked vehicle; a rented van works mighty fine. Fest bedtime means early a.m. when it's cooler and I sleep very comfortably; I've also slept in my vehicle with A/C running. Very clean private bathhouse (safe! pass code entry), pool, laundry room, grocery store. Free shuttle bus runs daily to FQ between 8am-8pm. Avoid I-10 traffic by taking Jefferson into midtown (10 min. max. to Carrolton). Cheap eats at a GREAT 24hr diner on Williams Blvd. Even better, have a Bloody Mary at the pool with like-minded festers. I've met some great folks, many go this route every year (including a music writer from Indianapolis, drives down, makes the whole scene and slides me backstage!). Sites do fill up, but not as fast as area hotel/motels.
Another recommends Bayou Segnette State Park, about 30 minutes from New Orleans:
For RV camping (no tents), French Quarter RV is probably the best location. It's just a few blocks from the Quarter, but consensus among locals is that you probably don't want to walk thru that neighborhood at night, and maybe not during the day. But cabs from there will be cheap, and folks who have stayed there tell me the facility itself is very secure.
Here's a map of other area RV parks:
For a hostel listing and booking engine, check out hostels.com.
Cheap hotels are always hard to find during Jazzfest. Downtown and the French Quarter are pricey, typically $200/night. On the other hand, hotels in Kenner (out near the airport) may be $50-100/night, depending when you book.
Since if you're reading this page, price is likely more important than exact location or amenities, you should also consider Priceline and Hotwire. Remember their rules (specific hotel unknown, prepay, non-refundable, maximum of double occupancy only, unspecified bed type). If you can live with that, check my Priceline/Hotwire page for bidding tips. With a bit of patience & persistence, the odds are you can get a nice hotel in the $50-100 range.
If you will have a car, make sure to inquire about parking rates when you book. (See below).
City Buses & Streetcars
City buses, run by NORTA, are dependable and affordable, and most drivers are friendly and helpful. Bus frequency varies, from perhaps every 15 minutes during weekday rush hour on popular routes, to as little as every 90 minutes during off hours on some routes. NORTA also runs the streetcars along St Charles, Canal St, and the Riverfront. Streetcars are more fun than buses, but slower.
You can find maps and schedules at http://norta.com/, or you can pick up printed schedules at New Orleans Public Library locations (main branch 219 Loyola Ave at Tulane Ave). Make sure you check schedules if riding at night - the last bus on some routes may be as early as 8pm, while other routes may run till midnight or later.
One way fare is $1.25 (seniors 65+: 40 cents), or you can get a 1-day unlimited ride pass for $3. Pay with coins or bills. If you don't have exact change, ask the driver for a "change card", which is a paper voucher you can use towards a future trip. You can also combine fares; for example, you can pay for 3 people with 4 one dollar bills and get a 25 change card back.
To take the bus to Jazzfest, you can ride the #91 buses, or the #48 Canal Streetcar. See my Transport page for details. Fares are just $1.25 each way, compared to $17 roundtrip for the shuttle or $5/person plus tip each way for a taxi).
You can by an unlimited pass for $3/day, or $9 for 3 consecutive days, and this is accepted on the city-run Fest buses.
If you are driving to New Orleans, and have room in or on your vehicle to bring bicycles, it's a great way to get to Fest. Bicycle parking is free at the Gentilly entrance. Plus no traffic worries, and no waiting in line for the bus or a cab. You can also rent bicycles when you get to New Orleans, but the cost (about $20/day) may not save you much over taking cabs.
If you're not driving to New Orleans, and you aren't staying in the Downtown or French Quarter, then renting a car is recommended. Downtown locations may have better daily rates than renting at the airport, and you avoid lots of airport rental add-on fees, so especially for longer stays, that may be worth the hassle. And even if you rent downtown, many companies let you return at the airport, at no extra cost.
If you plan to drive, remember that Downtown and French Quarter hotels usually have an additional charge for parking, often as much as $30/day or more. Airport and suburban hotels usually do not, so add that to your savings.
To park for free at the Fairgrounds, try hunting the area southeast of Esplanade Avenue, or across the Bayou around City Park. Arrive early enough, and (with patience) you should be able to find something within a mile or so of the Fest gate. Do not park within a car length of the crosswalk: you will be towed. Don't leave any valuables in the car.
No outside beverages are allowed, but the exception is they do allow one sealed bottle of water per person, up to 1 liter. When you finish it, go inside the Grandstand and refill it at the water fountains for free.
Outside alcohol is not allowed, but many folks report success sneaking in small quantities. A small flask in a pants pocket, covered by an oversized t-shirt, is not likely to be detected. Make sure the flask is disposable, just in case security does spot it.
If you're wanting to fill up frugally, some good choices are Fried Chicken with potato salad, crawfish bread, cracklins, or cafe du monde Beignets. Over by the Gospel Tent, look for Pecan Catfish Meuniere, Seafood Merliton, and a Crab Cake together on a combo plate that's big enough for you to skip dinner.
Bringing in outside food for personal consumption is allowed, according to Fest officials. No beverages.
Volunteer, get in for free
Generally, a 4 hour volunteer shift gets you a ticket for that day's Fest.
Since Katrina, the Jazzfest chat board Threadheads have staffed the Zulu Diamond
Cutter's beverage booth.
Go to http://threadheads.org/ and click on Ms. Lena's Brigade for info.
The lowest surcharges ($4/ticket) are advance purchases at the Arena paid in cash, but these are only available until the day before each weekend of Fest begins.
There's so much talent in New Orleans during Jazzfest that even lesser known bands, playing smaller clubs, are still world class. These are likely to be cheaper than the big name acts playing big clubs like HOB, Tips, and Howling Wolf. Some clubs even have no cover charge, perhaps with a one drink minimum. Try just wandering up and down Frenchmen Street, many free or cheap clubs are concentrated there.
Last updated: May 9, 2012