- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Considered the largest showcase of Louisiana music in the world, the free French Quarter Festival is bringing several first-time artists to this year’s lineup that spans musical genres from zydeco and blues to rock and soul.

“They say we’re the kickoff to Louisiana’s festival season, and we love that we are that,” said Marci Schramm, the festival’s executive director.

Organizers released the schedule Wednesday for the April 7-10 event held in the city’s famous historic neighborhood. It includes debuts by rock band Cowboy Mouth, blues musician Sonny Landreth, Buckwheat Zydeco and soul singer Jean Knight, who’s known for her classic hit “Mr. Big Stuff.”

They’re among more than 1,700 artists scheduled to perform on 23 stages, including Kermit Ruffin, Irma Thomas, Little Freddie King, Davell Crawford and Bonerama.

Schramm said even with 23 stages they can never book all of the talent seeking to participate in the festival. “We just don’t have enough spots for the endless stream of talent Louisiana has.”

Schramm said they’re hoping for better weather this year. “We’re praying to our weather gods for sunshine. Last year, we had three days of rain, so we’re just looking to do a solidly good, musically strong, delicious festival this year,” she said.

In addition to the music, the festival showcases Louisiana’s cuisine. “We provide fine dining in a festival environment,” Schramm said. “For a reasonable price, festgoers can say they ate at Galatoire’s or Antoine’s.”

Other vendors include Dickie Brennan’s, Muriel’s, Restaurant R’evolution, GW Fins, Jacques-Imo’s and Three Muses.

The 33rd annual event will include an April 8 tribute to Allen Toussaint, who died in November, and had made his festival debut in 2015.

“He was the face of our festival last year, and we’re still reeling from that loss,” Schramm said. “A substantial tribute is planned.”

The festival will kick off with a second line parade that will wend its way from Bourbon Street to Jackson Square on April 7. “Conversations about Louisiana Music” will return with free presentations and performances at the Louisiana State Museum’s Old U.S. Mint on April 9 and April 10.

Schramm noted that the festival has grown into one of the city’s largest free events, ranked just under Mardi Gras, and has an average economic impact of about $200 million.

“Because we produce this event in the French Quarter neighborhood, there’s no gate access to the area so people are free to eat in the restaurants, drink in the bars and shop in the shops located here in the area. At other events, like Jazz Fest - and I love Jazz Fest - you walk in the gate and all the commerce takes place inside the gate with some of that profit leaving the state,” she said. “With us, there’s more of a freedom there. You can be as much a part of it as you want or you can duck off into one of the neighborhood’s restaurants or bars if you want out of it and the money stays here.”

The festival’s title sponsor, Chevron, returns along with major sponsors Abita, Brown-Forman, Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, Tropical Isle, Rouses, GE Digital and The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk.

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Online: www.fqfi.org

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