'Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story' review: Doc hits like a warm beignet

Start booking your trip to next year's festival now.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Jazz Fest is a New Orleans tradition dating back 50 years, bringing together the best music, food and soul the Big Easy has to offer. 

"Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story" covers the bases of the festival, which is spread out over eight days on 14 stages, bringing in some 7,000 musicians and 100,000 fans. It's not at all like being there, but it might help convince you that life is too short to not make your way to the festival at least once before you die.  

Jimmy Buffett performs in a scene from "Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story."

Talking heads from Jimmy Buffett (a Jazz Fest staple) to Tom Jones wax on the fest, which unfolds on the Fair Grounds Race Course at the edge of the city's 7th Ward. Filmed during the 2019 edition of the festival, there's an emphasis on that year's performances by Katy Perry and Pitbull, representative of the fest's eclecticism if not its traditional sound. 

That's better embodied by the film's exploration of the fest's jazz and gospel roots, each of which get their own chapters here. There's also a breakdown of the key differences between Cajun and Zydeco music, and the ways the fest's different styles hit you from all directions at once. As the artist Boyfriend puts it, in a world where we increasingly rely on digitally curated recommendations, at Jazz Fest, "you're going to experience something that your computer wouldn't have put in your feed."  

Directors Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern are clearly fans, and they tell the festival's story with reverence, focusing on the New Orleans artists, from Irma Thomas to Big Freedia, who give the festival its punch. Attention is paid to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Jazz Fest's comeback in 2006, which was bolstered by a certain megastar who makes a late appearance in the film. The festival is an institution that had to survive, that had to come roaring back, and "Jazz Fest" makes the case for its next 50 years going forward. 



'Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story'


Rated PG-13: for brief language and some suggestive material

Running time: 96 minutes

In theaters