Published: 
Thursday, April 23, 2020
By Eli A. Haddow, marketing associate

Michael P. Smith (inset) served as an unofficial photographer at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for more than 30 years. While his most famous images feature legendary performers and shows, he also captured thousands of in-between moments at the Fest. While roving the grounds, Smith had an eye for the food, the fashions, and the fun diversions that make Jazz Fest one of the most interesting places in the world, for the two long weekends that it covers. 

Smith’s archive is one of THNOC’s largest photo collections, and its contents also explore African American churches, second lines, and the general cultural scene in New Orleans from the 1970s through the early 2000s. Smith referred to the neighborhoods and residents that created and supported this as “the cultural wetlands.”

This year, of course, there will be no Jazz Fest—at least as we know it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate and mourn (as we tend to do simultaneously) the Fest that would have been. 

If you really want more Jazz Fest in your home, check out The Shop at the Collection’s selection of prints from the Michael P. Smith collection, which can be shipped right to your home while The Shop’s physical location is closed. We also have free downloadable Jazz Fest backgrounds for your virtual meetings or festing-in-place hangouts.

To help us all come together virtually, we present 23 vintage images of Jazz Fest—some all-time classics, many you’ve probably never seen before—by photographer Michael P. Smith. Want to see more? Explore Smith’s images in our online catalog

1. Bo Diddley lends young Trombone Shorty a hand in 1990.

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2. Festival goers rush through a line in 1982.

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3. A sea of people gathers beneath a clear blue sky in 1988.

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4. Flower crowns are in-style at the crawfish pie booth in 1977. 


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5. Professor Longhair commands the stage in 1976.


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6. The blacksmith demonstration draws a crowd in 1980.


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7. These dancers show off their moves in 1977.


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8. The food options in 1986 look delicious (and familiar).


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9. Irma Thomas draws a big crowd in 1975 (and still does).


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10. Surrendering to the mud in 1993. 


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11. A group poses in front of the Dr. Banana stand in 1982.


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12. B.B. King puts on a show in 1972, the Fest’s first year at the Fairgrounds. 


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13. Two Fest fashion staples that never go out of style: crawfish glasses and a Professor Longhair t-shirt 


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14. More ‘70s fashions at the BBQ Ribs and Goat booth.


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15. James Booker shares the piano with a Schlitz can in 1978.


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16. A giant Schlitz can offers a better vantage point in 1982.


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17. Children lend a hand (and a beer?) in the sound booth in 1985.


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18. Spotted: A Levi’s shirt and blue jeans at the oyster po-boy booth in 1978.


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19. The Rebirth Brass Band struts their stuff in 1988.


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20. The ice tea booth needs more ice in 1978.


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21. There’s a mad dash for something in 1982. 


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22. A customer at the crawfish booth looks puzzled in 1978.


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23. Mahalia Jackson smiles at the first Jazz Fest in 1970, held in Congo Square.


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Want more Jazz Fest history? Read about the festival's first year at the Fairgrounds and the efforts it took to stage it in this 2019 First Draft article.