New Orleans Jazz Fest 40th Year Riffs On Old, New

Music fans old enough to have attended the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 40 years ago boogied alongside those who weren't yet born when the celebration of music, food and the culture of Louisiana began.

Sunday's Jazz Fest finale paid heavy homage to music's elder statesmen. Neil Young, 63, was on stage for two hours, while Allen Toussaint, 71, preceded him, and the Neville Brothers, who range from 61 to 72, followed him.

"They're like the festival: not getting old, just better," said Jennifer Martin, 37, of Boston.

Although Jazz Fest officials didn't plan to announce this year's attendance until Monday, crowds were huge on Saturday and substantial on Sunday.

Stories of swine flu spreading across the country did not seem to deter the crowds. People packed in front of the stages and filled the tents with nary a medical mask to be seen.

"I'm not worried about the flu," said John Landry, 28, of Houston. "I am regularly taking beer. They tell you lots of fluid, right? And besides, it's antiseptic."

The economy was also apparently not a deterrent. There were long lines at the food booths throughout the event and vendors of everything from paintings to African clothing said business was good.

Jazz Fest tickets were $40 in advance and $50 at the gate this year. That was an increase from two years ago, when tickets were $35 in advance and $40 at the gate. In 2004, tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. Organizers say the price is still a bargain compared to many other music festivals.

The weather, which had been mild throughout Sunday thanks to a cloud cover and a brisk breeze, changed abruptly shortly before the closing acts were scheduled to perform. Heavy rain sent the crowd scurrying for cover and cleared the stages.

The weather cleared soon enough for the festival to continue a finale tradition that was halted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and revived last year.

New Orleans-native rock favorites The Radiators played on a big stage at one end of the festival while the Neville Brothers played one at the other end.

"Recession, depression, pandemic, no matter what it is, the Jazz Fest just rocks on," said festival producer and director Quint Davis.

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