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  • A Jazz Fest guide for parents of babies, kids and teens

    New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees and his kids make a guest appearance as Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue close out the New Orleans Jazz Fest on the Acura Stage Sunday, May 3, 2015. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

    To bring the kids or to not bring the kids? For local parents, that is the eternal New Orleans Jazz Fest question.

    On one hand, Jazz Fest is exactly the kind of vibrant, only-in-New Orleans experience you want to share with your kiddo. They can dance in the grass to live tunes, and smile wide smiles stained bright red by a cherry Huckabuck Frozen Cup.

    On the other hand, the mix of crowds, heat and loud music — or even, dare we say it, rain — has the potential to culminate in one epic, Jazz Fest-ending meltdown. Parents contemplating letting their teens go to the fest alone for the first time have an added layer of concerns.

    Quincy Crawford, who writes for the NOLA Parent blog, advises parents who want to involve their kids in Jazz Fest to treat their expectations for the day like prohibited outside beverages — leave them behind, because they will only cause problems once you approach the gate. Don’t try to drag your children from stage to stage or force feed them Crawfish Monica if they are making an icky face.

    If you do want to take them, we spoke with local parent bloggers and experts for advice on bringing your kids to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell. Here is what we learned.

    Single day children’s tickets are only available for purchase at the Jazz Fest gates, which means you can’t buy one ahead of time. The plus side? It only costs $5 for children ages 2 to 10. That compares with $85 for a single day adult ticket purchased at the gate, or $75 if you plan ahead and purchase tickets at the Smoothie King Center Box Office.

    The crowds are thinner and you can return without the kids if there are bands you really, really don’t want to miss during the prime-time Saturday and Sunday spots. Emily Schneller, who has written about Jazz Fest dos and don’ts for the New Orleans Mom’s Blog, prefers Jazz Fest Thursday. “It’s just less crazy,” said Schneller, who has two children.

    Worried about being the only parent who pulls their kid out of school for Jazz Fest? Schneller said she does it and knows plenty of parents who do the same. Consider it one of the many “only-in-New Orleans” rites of passage local kids get to experience.

    Opera Creole performs at the Kids Tent during Jazz Fest on Sunday May 4, 2014. (Photo by Kathleen Flynn, NOLA.com l The Times-Picayune)

    If you have little kids, you should accept that you may end up here for much, if not all, of your day. The Kids Tent is located across from the Grandstand this year, between the People’s Health Economy Hall Tent and the Gentilly Pedestrian Entrance. Here’s the festival map to help you locate it.

    The Kids Tent offers youth programming from 11:30 a.m. to around 6 p.m. daily, including puppet shows, plays, youth choirs and bands, and acts like the Harris Family Cajun Band and The Swing Setters, a local children’s jazz band that plays everything from Disney tunes to New Orleans classics.

    Jazz Fest is pretty lenient with its bag size, so you shouldn’t have a problem bringing in a backpack or diaper bag. Place items like smart phones in plastic bags to waterproof them. Drinking water is allowed in, but it must be in filled, sealed store-bought bottles. Empty re-usable water bottles and hydration systems like CamelBaks are also allowed in.

    Other good things to have? Sunscreen, hats, toilet tissue and hand sanitizer. For young kids, don’t forget the diapers, wet wipes and a sippy cup for sharing water or a strawberry lemonade. Jenni Evans, parent educator at the Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital, also recommends bringing a change of clothes and a small toy, stickers or markers to keep kids entertained between sets.

    “Always bring a change of clothes, mostly because it’s nice to get wet when it’s so hot, but they’re also going to be covered in Mango Freeze and sand from the track and whatever else,” Evans said.

    The flag pole becomes a playground during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Saturday, April 24, 2016. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

    Many of us go to Jazz Fest to take advantage of the plethora of cuisine. Keep in mind that lines can be long and kids may not be interested in all the fare available. Eating before leaving for the fest gives you some time to explore.

    Unlike outside beverages, food is allowed into Jazz Fest. Pack small, light snacks like popped corn, crackers or fruit to ply hangry kids.

    Located just outside the Kids Tent, this area offers menu items that can appeal to even the fussiest eaters, including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, mac and cheese and a strawberry and yogurt trifle.

    A kid takes a page from the Baylen Brees playbook as the Revivalists perform on the Acura Stage during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on Friday, May 5, 2017. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

    It is easy to lose a full-grown adult, not to mention a small child, when Jazz Fest crowds start to swell. If you can’t find your child, stay in the general area and look for Jazz Fest workers in bright yellow “Event Staff” shirts with two-way radios who will be able to relay through the festival’s dispatch system that your child is lost. If that fails, the New Orleans Police Department operates a compound between the Sheraton Fais Do Do Stage and the Gentilly Stage, where lost children and parents are directed.

    Trying to find parking around Jazz Fest can add unnecessary stress. Cut out that factor by catching a city-run shuttle from downtown New Orleans or catching an RTA bus to the fest. RTA fares are free for kids under 2 years old. You have to pay for those 3 and up.

    Experienced Jazz Fest parents know better than to try to battle the post-fest crowds with kids in tow. Leave well before the last sets of the day to avoid getting lost in a sea of people.

    It all depends on what kind of Jazz Fester you are. If you’re the kind that finds a spot, plops down some camping chairs and sets up a home base, bringing a stroller provides added storage space and shade. But be prepared to navigate that stroller over questionable Jazz Fest terrain and beware if it rains.

    “The stroller just becomes a big mess,” said Schneller, who learned that lesson after one of her son’s first Jazz Fest experiences.

    If you prefer to leave the stroller and wander from place to place, Schneller recommends carrying your baby in a wrap, sling or carrier.

    Jazz Fest has few restrictions on bag size, so you should be in the clear when it comes to bringing in a diaper bag. Filled bottles are allowed in as well, as long as you can prove a baby is in your party.

    Music festivals are loud. Consider buying hearing protection to protect tiny ears from big sounds, especially if you want to wiggle your way into the crowd. Child-size protective ear muffs can be found on Amazon or in stores such as Academy Sports, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart.

    Evans advises parents talk about being lost with toddlers and practice what they should do beforehand — stand still, don’t move and yell “Mom” or “Dad” loudly.

    Yep, you read that right. Break out the Sharpie marker and write your phone number on the back of your toddler’s hand or on their arm. It will help nearby adults reunite you and your child more easily should they become separated from you.

    Jazz Fest, as we well know, can get muddy. And toddlers like mud. Prevent having to dispose of dirty shoes by outfitting them with a comfy, washable pair. Schneller likes Native Shoes slip on shoes, which are made of a plastic material easily washed with a hose.

    Grade schoolers title slide for Jazz Fest parents guide. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

    Write it on a piece of paper and put it in their pocket for reference in case they get lost. Teach them to stay where they are and scan the crowd for your face, a uniformed police officer or someone visibly wearing a yellow T-shirt with “Event Staff” written on the back and a two-way radio.

    Write it on a piece of paper and put it in their pocket for reference in case they get lost. Teach them to stay where they are and scan the crowd for your face, a uniformed police officer or someone visibly wearing a yellow T-shirt with “Event Staff” written on the back and a two-way radio.

    Pair a Jazz Fest-related book (check out “Happy JazzFest” by Cornell P. Landry and illustrated by Sean Guatreaux) with your outing or create a simple scavenger hunt for kids to complete.

    Crawford, mother to a tween and a teen, noted middle school-age kids start wanting to break away from their parents to meet up with friends at Jazz Fest. It is OK to let responsible kids wander, but Crawford recommends setting up a system to check in. For example, meet at the strawberry lemonade stand outside the Gospel Tent every two hours. Also, make sure they know they cannot leave the Fair Grounds at any time or they will not be able to get back in.

    There isn’t a specific rule for how old you must be before you can attend Jazz Fest without adult supervision. Whether you as a parent decide to let them do so is your call. Evans said attending Jazz Fest with your teenager or sending them with another parent is the “best case scenario.” But if they have been to the event before and have a history of checking in and being trustworthy, it is fine to let them go, though they should go with a group of — similarly trustworthy — friends. If you aren’t going with them, try to at least drop them off and pick them up personally.

    Forget the buddy system. If your teenager is going to Jazz Fest on their own this year, Crawford advises parents make sure that they are with at least two other friends at all times during the event. If someone gets hurt or passes out in the heat, one person can stay behind and another can go get help. When waiting in the line for the bathroom, two people can wait outside, while one person goes to the bathroom.

    Students gather for the annual Kids Day, held inside the Blues Tent at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Thursday, April 30, 2015. (Photo by David Lee Simmons, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune file)

    This a big one. Big crowds gathered in one area have a tendency to overload cell networks, making it difficult to make calls or send text messages. Think about the service drop-offs that occur when you approach the Endymion parade route during Mardi Gras. Make a contingency plan should your phones be rendered useless. If you are at the fest, stick to the above advice for regular check-ins. If you are picking up your child from Jazz Fest, make sure you set a specific meeting place and time well beforehand. Even if phones go down, your teen will know where to find you at the end of the day.

    Set limits if you plan on giving your child some spending money to buy food and drinks at the fest. The easiest way to do this is by giving them a set amount of cash to walk in with. Encourage teens to share food items with their friends to save money. Teens with debit cards can withdraw cash from ATMs onsite, but they will be charged a fee for doing so and you have less control over how much they ultimately take out.

    Ed Sheeran closes out the Gentilly Stage during the New Orleans Jazz Fest, Saturday, May 2, 2015. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

    Crawford has one friend who has her teenage daughter pay for half of her ticket price. Kids who help pay for their ticket are more invested, and it turns into a good financial lesson, she said.

    It is a music festival after all. Koozie-wrapped beers are everywhere as is the waft of a certain something in the air. Evans recommends having a straightforward talk about alcohol and drugs, why people do them and the effect they can have on your health. Try to avoid doom and gloom and focus the conversation on how much you care about your child’s health and how you want them to have a good experience at Jazz Fest.

    Read all of NOLA.com’s coverage of Jazz Fest 2019, including reviews, food recommendations, weather and tips for packing.

    Jennifer Larino covers residential real estate, retail, tourism and other consumer and business news for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. Reach her at jlarino@nola.com or 504-239-1424. Follow her on Twitter @jenlarino.

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    Post time: Apr-28-2019
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