- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Steely Dan, Michael McDonald and Janelle Monae are a few of the artists set to take the stage Friday. But the customary jubilation accompanying the opening of the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was tempered by sadness over the death of pop music icon Prince.

As thousands streamed onto the festival site, Prince was on the mind of Duane Pitre of New Orleans.

“The news of Prince yesterday - that’s a harsh one,” said Pitre. “It’s another artist this year, similar to (David) Bowie that everybody can relate to on some level or liked his music on some level. Growing up, my mom had Prince going on in the house all the time.”

“I was really hoping it wasn’t true,” said Lauren Cecil, also of New Orleans. “I told some of my co-workers when it happened and people started crying at work.”

Prince never played at Jazz Fest and, with a schedule that was planned well ahead of the opening, no formal tributes were on the festival agenda. But impromptu tributes were expected.

“I’m sure it’s going to be something that reverberates through here all day - all weekend,” Robert Kelly of Daytona Beach, Florida, a festival regular since 1988, said as he entered the grounds with his wife, Roxanne.

“We were shocked when we heard it,” Roxanne Kelly said. “It just doesn’t seem possible.”

Festival goers were greeted by sunny skies at the Fair Grounds Race Course, the horse racing track where the festival unfolds over two weekends.

Jazz Fest unfolds over two weekends. Crowds are drawn to hear music covering a wide variety of musical genres performed by scores of acts - some nationally known, some regionally and locally - who take their turns on close to a dozen stages spread over the track’s infield.

There’s also a variety of food - local and ethnic cuisines at booths on the festival site and at restaurants catering to the crowds.

“It’s beautiful chaos,” said Eric James, manager of Santa Fe, a Latin American restaurant close to the track, who says the crowds are a boon to business.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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