NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Thousands of music fans descended on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on Friday to see some hometown favorites who've made their mark nationally.
Pianist, vocalist and New Orleans native Harry Connick Jr. closed out the festival's largest venue while Aaron Neville's distinctive voice shut down the Blues Tent.
Attendee Nancy Davis and her husband, Richard Ashmore — whom she met at Jazz Fest in 1985 — arrived before dawn to celebrate the anniversary of their meeting and her 40th year of "festing," she told The Advocate (http://bit.ly/2puyij8 ).
Her first festival in 1977 was memorable, she said, because she managed to see performances by both Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder.
"You just can't beat it," Davis said. She said she attends all seven days of the festival every single year. "I'm hooked."
Laura Valliant, 64, and about 30 other people meet for breakfast at the same restaurant each year before the festival opens.
"Once a year, you just see people that you don't see the rest of the year, and it's like a family reunion," said Valliant, who also goes to the festival every day it's open. "There's the music and the food, but it's really about the people."
But the music is the thing for close friends Sandi Gumpert, 46, and Susan Parker, 61, who have been attending Jazz Fest together for more than a decade.
Gumpert said she was wanted to see Johnny Sansone, one of the first acts scheduled Friday morning. But she probably didn't manage to hear every song because of her personal goal of "1.75 bph" — seeing 1.75 bands per hour.
"I always try to go see new people," she said, while sipping a Bloody Mary.
"The diversity is fabulous," Parker said.
Packed crowds for some of the bigger acts often draw the most complaints from attendees. But there was room for spectators as Connick started his closing act and as Nas began to perform with his guests, the Soul Rebels
The seven-day festival wraps over two weekends, ending May 7. Besides 11 stages of music, the fest this year features a cultural exchange area dedicated to Cuba that will have music, foods and crafts from the country.