The Art of Festing

March 03, 2023
If we’re being honest, there’s no better way to understand Festival Season in New Orleans than speaking with a local who sleeps, eats, lives, and dies by the festivities. In case you aren’t sure if you know one of these people, here’s how you can identify them. They will start talking about the Jazz Fest line up at the Thanksgiving table. Perhaps you might catch them arguing over which is better: the crawfish bread or the crawfish bread pudding. They will skip work, funerals, weddings, and even post-pone surgeries to avoid any commitment that might fall between March 1st and the end of May.

Take Rebecca Bohn and her husband, Tim Hufft. They love to tell people that Tom Petty played at their wedding because they got married at Jazz Fest. Beaming, Rebecca exclaims, “It’s our happy place, it feeds our souls and reinvigorates our love for our city.”

But let’s say you aren’t blessed with a Rebecca or a Tim in your life. What then do you do? Relax, I’ve got you covered.

My favorite part of festival season is the poster reveals. Each festival chooses an artist, by their own process, to represent the festival and what it brings to the city. Those posters endure as iconic representations of that festival for years to come, becoming much sought-after additions to collections across the globe.

This year’s Jazz Fest poster was released a day ahead of the scheduled performance lineup. Artist James Michalopoulos, once again, takes the helm to create the festival’s poster this year, titled Quarter (love) Notes. Michalopoulos creates a vibrantly colored French Quarter image that is true to his well-known and much-beloved style. It’s been decades since he last visited this position as Jazz Fest poster artist, and has turned this poster literally on its ear, creating a horizontally-oriented poster rather than the traditional vertical. His new poster captures a stroll through the French Quarter as only James Michalopoulos can show us. Exaggerated angles and dynamic color changes carry us along as we are swept away by the appreciative feeling that we get to live in a city like this with a time of year like this. If there ever was an artist that defined a city, then James Michalopoulos is the artist who defines New Orleans. His paintings have inspired other artists to work towards capturing our distinctive homes. His work captures the core of our lives and makes that core desirable, interesting, and tantalizing.

The French Quarter Festival’s 40th-anniversary official poster features a celebratory scene in honor of four decades of music, food, and fun in the historic French Quarter. Created by the team at Tilt Studio, the poster invokes the festive atmosphere of a community gathered to honor and enjoy New Orleans’ cultural traditions. With stylistic nods to our 1980s roots and a few “Easter eggs” that discerning long-time fans might notice, the poster references our history while recognizing that it is the people who make French Quarter Festival so special.

Artist Christy Boutte brings Louisiana and Mardi Gras to the rest of the world with three paintings created to honor her partnership with Louisiana’s own Raising Cane’s. The company commissioned her to create images that represent the company’s dedication to celebrating Mardi Gras. Since beginning her career in 2000, Christy has become known for using her fingers to paint her globally recognized images. One painting captures a marching band performing in front of a decorated Raising Cane’s restaurant, with the company’s sign as the focal point of the image. The special thing about this painting is that although we see the only the tops of the band members and the sign, the painting is shockingly alive. Her texture and colors bring a unique composition to life. Her other two paintings feature Cane III, the company’s mascot. One has Cane riding in a streetcar and the other has Cane dawning one of Christy’s signature Mardi Gras masks. Christy’s name has become synonymous with Louisiana art and artists, and her love for her home state and its iconic images is apparent at first glance. She offers Louisiana to the rest of the world on a blinged out half-shell, complete with the spicy flavors and sweet scents we all take for granted. Her joy is obvious through her work. Dancing colors and flamboyant textures help emblazon each of her creations in our memory, not just because they are so captivating, but because they are so joyful and happy. While the posters are meant to celebrate the love we have for a specific time of year, the images themselves celebrate an artist with vibrant love for Louisiana and an appreciation for her talents. Raising Cane’s has released the images at all locations during the Mardi Gras season and posters are also a big part of the companies push. Free posters were handed out at meet-and-greets where Christy was on hand to sign them and personally spread the joy she paints into each of her creations.

Another company that has partnered with a local artist during this time of the year is Barq’s and Coca-Cola United. This year, artist Becky Fos was given the opportunity to create the company’s campaign and poster, and send a message to the rest of the world that New Orleans is once again back again by throwing the largest party we could think of without restrictions. The campaign “Eat Drink, and Be Mardi” is represented by a decadent purple float riding solo down a French Quarter street with signs announcing the time of year and the company’s logo. The vibrant sky seems to sing the song of a springtime evening while also revealing that things are getting warmer and sunnier, that New Orleans is about to come alive after a long winter. Becky spent eight days on a poster signing tour across southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Folks lined up to meet the artist, have her sign their posters, and feel the appreciation this artist has for her city. Recently, Becky also gained the distinction of becoming the first female artist to create the poster for the Krewe of Zulu. She continues to shock us with her positive spirit and a level of gratitude that is often lost by successful artists in America. Becky isn’t interested in being famous; she’s simply good at it. Inspiring younger artists, she leaves in her wake young girls who can see a strong and talented woman making changes in a world which, honestly, has for too long been dominated by men.

Well, here we are. Through the talents and creations of our local, rock star-like artists, we are a little closer to understanding the Rebeccas and Tims of the world. We are also one step closer to having a zest for life and a unquenchable desire for that time of year called Festival Season. While we may have a long way to go before we’re saying that Tom Petty played at our weddings, the goal is now set for you.

Ready … Set … Fest!