Despite the ongoing pandemic, 2022 was the year New Orleans found its groove. The city officially ended indoor mask mandates in March, but Mardi Gras is closer than usual, and some of the biggest celebrations are back in full swing in the spring.
The Jazz and Heritage Festival has become one of the most anticipated signs of a return to normal, perhaps due to the planned and then canceled attempt to hold a festival in October 2021, as well as to bring a crowd of touring artists, and arena rockers to Dakhka Brakha Ukraine. But after the talent announcement in January, there was a reminder of the unpredictability of previous years: The Foo Fighters canceled their appearance following the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins. The Alison Miner Musical Heritage Theater usually hosts a full roster of musician talks, but the regular series, which takes place indoors in large amphitheaters, was not part of this year’s festival.
But come spring, music legends like The Who, Stevie Nicks, and Lionel Richie take to the stage at the Fair Grounds. Nicks dedicated “Landslide” to Hawkins while the crowd sang along.
The festival showed many of its sides. Notable touring artists include Norah Jones and her side project Puss N Boots. Original Meter Leo Nocentelli performed his 1971 folk album Live in its entirety. Mac Phipps joined rapper Mia X on stage, who was released from prison after winning the clemency of Governor John Bel Edwards. And there was a tribute to the musicians we’ve lost since the last festival, including Ellis Marsalis, Art, Cyril Neville, Dr. John and Festival founder George Wynne.
The French Quarter Festival is back in full force, with 270 mostly local bands on 20 stages spread across the historic district and riverfront.
At the end of June, the Essence Culture Festival returns after nearly three years with a great program, but no Superlounges. Kevin Hart opened with a comedy night, then Janet Jackson, Nicki Minaj, Jazmine Sullivan, New Edition and the Isley Brothers lured fans to Caesars Superdome.
Many local festivals are back in full force. Hogs for the Cause is back on the field outside UNO Lakefront Arena and is a record-breaking fundraiser, raising more than $2.6 million to fight pediatric brain cancer. In October, the Gretna Heritage Festival had one of the best line-ups ever, featuring John Fogarty, The Beach Boys, Grace Potter, North Mississippi Allstars and many more. Visited the Bayou Boogaloo downtown scene, Bayou St. John for the first time.
At the end of the year, however, there are some important questions on the front of the festival. BUKU Music + Art Project held an event in March, but announced in August that it will not be returning in 2023. The Voodoo Festival has been canceled and it is not clear if it will return.
Throughout the year, festivals and events showcasing a wide range of local cultures return, including Lafite Seafood Festival, Festival of Nations, Pignet Festival, West Bank Heritage Festival, Southern Police, Little Red Riding Hood, Cocktail Tales, NOWFE, and Greek Fest, Tate Festival, and more. The NOLA East Festival kicked off at Joe Brown Park. Founded in 2020, the New Orleans Juneteenth Festival was its first event without Covid restrictions. After a few years, the New Orleans Pride returned to new management and resumed their show.
The carnival ends in 2022. New Orleans has ramped up the shows, breaking down Magazine Street blocks into its own downtown street. (Shorter routes will also be used in 2023.) But the schedule has relaxed a bit this year. The Krewe of Nefertiti marches in East New Orleans well in advance of the set parades in the official 12-day floating performance window. Chewbacchus and a few parades are also on the calendar to take advantage of the open dates. Nyx performed a much shorter parade than usual after withdrawing from membership due to controversy over leadership not supporting Black Lives Matter, and several krewe subsets marched with other walkers.
In Jefferson, the Carnival also saw changes, including the debut of the Krewe of Symphony and the return of Atlas to the East Bank. On the West Bank, the kitchen queens put on their first show, but Adonis didn’t roll.
On a cultural level, many museum spaces have been reopened and/or expanded. The Backstreet Cultural Museum has moved to a new home on St. Philip Street. The House of Dancing and Feathers, which was destroyed by Hurricane Ida, has also undergone major repairs and reopened. The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities has opened an exhibition space dedicated to the work of John T. Scott. Music Box Village has added new musical art installations, including collaborations with Lonnie Holley and Congolese Connections with Papa Titos Sompa.
Prospect.5 has been hampered by the pandemic and installation delays. The sculpture, by New York artist Simon Lee, was installed only in the final weeks of the show. The foundation has named Miranda Lash, formerly of NOMA, and artist Ebony Patterson as coordinators for Prospect.6, which opens in 2024.
There have been many new additions on the arts and entertainment front. The National World War II Museum used its giant shadows in a new multimedia exhibit that celebrates the many citizens who contributed to the war effort. In El Arabi, the Miro Foundation opened an outdoor art park on Saint-Claude Street to host music, film and cultural events. In December, a new downtown holiday show was introduced, but with commercially sponsored floats.
Many artists and culture bearers are lost in 2022. They include cartoonist and former contest contributor Bunny Matthews, artist and French Quarter personality Chris Owens, K&B pharmacy founder and philanthropist Sidney Bestoff, and researcher Kenneth Holditch at Tennessee Williams.
As the year draws to a close with the announcement of Carnival and the looming Spring Festival of the New Year, festivals and culture have returned to their usual place, drawing attention and capturing the creative spirit of New Orleans.