Since 1970, the city of New Orleans has been home to one of the biggest music festivals of the nation. Each spring, Jazz Fest blends together the flavors of the city’s history, culture and music for a perfectly balanced bowl of gumbo.

The weeklong festival is set in the heart of New Orleans and claims a wide range of musicians, from well-known artists like Jimmy Buffet and Katy Perry to locally known underground performers.

“Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” had all the right ingredients to make a documentary celebrating the history and culture of the festival. It just didn’t blend its ingredients well.

The documentary opens with some festival favorites and other well-known artists like Earth Wind & Fire and Pitbull hyping the prominence of the festival in music. It goes on to include interviews from the founders of the festival about its early years, and then onto pieces of the culture of New Orleans and Jazz Fest.

What the film has in spades is the hyping of the culture of the festival. If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know the city takes on a character unlike any other city – one filled with soul, celebration and spice, and the festival is a celebration of the city.

The annual festival includes much more than jazz music. From gospel to rock-n-roll to rap, there’s as much musical variety as there are types of people at the festival, and both the footage and interviews highlight just about every type of artist that plays at Jazz Fest. There’s extensive archival footage, which is selected carefully and edited just in place. There’s also extensive coverage of the 50th anniversary shows, from the Preservation Hall Band, a local jazz band, to the big-name draws.


Sometimes the lengthy footage is appealing, intercut by stories of the artists and their history with and thoughts of the festival. This particularly worked well when there are stories shared about the festival itself, like the Marsalis siblings recalling memories on the stage and off, or how gospel music became a part of the festival. At other times, the footage drones on, like a four-minute-long Pitbull number (Jimmy Buffet’s segment clocked in at three minutes), or a two-minute segment of an out-of-breath and pitchy Katy Perry singing “Firework,” combined with interview footage that didn’t match the subject of the documentary at all.

Adding to the flavor of the documentary was how it took time to explain some of the more cultural aspects of the festival, like the reason why Black attendees might wear Native American-style garb to honor the Native Americans who took in escaped slaves. Or the explanation of the “Second Line Band,” a New Orleans-style jazz parade that is historically used after funerals to celebrate the life of a loved one.

The food of the festival is highlighted in the documentary, though nothing more than a couple minutes of asking what vendors sell and showing mouth-watering images of gumbo and crab beignets.

Perhaps the most touching part of the documentary was the way it talked about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, how the jazz festival was still held, and how that seemed to make the city come alive. I just kept wishing they would’ve expanded on that more.

It’s then too bad that “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” seemed to lack the proper balance of its ingredients. It often relied to heavily on the wrong spices of interviews of people explaining what it’s like to be there, adding in too much footage of artists’ sets that don’t matter, and far too few pieces of history about the festival.

“Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” failed at finding the right balance, but that didn’t mean it was a failed dish. There were parts of the movie that were touching, entertaining, and educational. I just wish there were more of the right ingredients.

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