As I shared in the first part  of this series, Katie of Tripbase  began a challenge last month to reveal three “best kept travel secrets.”  So, when The Word Wire  tagged me to do the same, I decided to highlight three of my favorite places and events in the United States.
Even if jazz isn't your musical style of choice, you've probably heard of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival , the annual two-weekend event that takes over the Fair Grounds  – and the rest of the Crescent City – every spring. Since April of 1970, residents and tourists alike have relished this stupendous event. I've attended it so often that I've lost count – in fact, my mother took me to my first Jazz Fest when I was still in her belly. Over the years, I've sipped a ton of strawberry lemonades, sampled numerous regional delicacies, perused a multitude of folk and contemporary crafts, and listened to everyone from Cajun blues artist Tab Benoit to the iconic Neville Brothers.
But, in recent years, I've watched the ticket prices soar, the acts get bigger (and less related to jazz and heritage), and the Fair Grounds grow more and more crowded – and I find that I don't get as excited as I used to. Luckily, there's another springtime festival for music and food lovers – and for now anyway, it's free to attend. Unlike Jazz Fest, the French Quarter Festival (504/522-5730 or 800/673-5725) is dedicated to supporting the local music community, which means the 17 outdoor stages – spread throughout the French Quarter, from Jackson Square to Woldenberg Riverfront Park – only host local gospel, jazz, funk, zydeco, brass, classical, bluegrass, folk, and blues acts. In other words, you won't see Bob Dylan here (unless, of course, he's one of the attendees).
Begun in 1984 as the “locals' festival,” the French Quarter Fest has since evolved into Louisiana's largest free music event. In addition, the festival – which typically takes place in mid-April, a couple weeks prior to Jazz Fest – offers a wealth of food and beverages for sale, from boiled crawfish and stuffed artichokes to refreshing snoballs and locally brewed Abita beer. Despite its popularity, though, it has yet to become the corporate beast that many accuse Jazz Fest of being. Although some areas – such as Woldenberg Park and the grounds of the Old U.S. Mint – teem with festival-goers, you rarely feel trapped and overwhelmed, as so often happens at the Fair Grounds. Given its location in the Quarter, you're never contained for long. Even the iron fences that surround Jackson Square and the U.S. Mint are temporary barriers. The great thing about French Quarter Fest is that you're always free to wander from stage to stage, food booth to food booth – or quit the crowds altogether by venturing onto the other historic streets not involved in the event.
My husband and I adore this festival – not only for the variety of local music and delicacies, but also because we're usually staying in the Quarter come mid-April, which makes bathroom breaks infinitely less bothersome than they are on the Fair Grounds, where port-o-potties rule. So, I hope we'll see you down in New Orleans during the weekend of April 9-11, 2010. The three-day event should be a whirlwind as always – and better still, you'll find plenty of hotels within walking distance, making your potty breaks less bothersome, too.
I hope this “travel secret” has piqued your interest about the New Orleans area, a place rife with rhythm and revelry. For more information, consult the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau  (2020 St. Charles St., 800/672-6124, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) or pick up a copy of Andrew Collins' Moon New Orleans  travel guide.
And, of course, don't forget to visit the third part  of this “travel secret” series!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.