Q’s With Quint Davis: The Stones Lead Jazz Fest’s Incredible 50th Celebration

Quint Davis
Skip Bolen / WireImage
– Quint Davis

With major music festivals announcing their lineups in recent weeks, maybe no other event made a splash quite like New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which for its 50th year is welcoming none other than The Rolling Stones to top an absolutely stacked lineup including Dave Matthews Band, Katy Perry, Jimmy Buffett & The Coral Reefer Band, Chris Stapleton, Pitbull, Santana, Diana Ross, Van Morrison and Al Green making his first public appearance in seven years among the hundreds more over its eight days and 13 stages April 25-28 and May 2-5.

Jazz Fest producer and director Quint Davis, tasked with putting together a lineup of just under 700 artists in total, talked to Pollstar about putting it all together, the festival’s mission and core fans, as well as how the Stones booking – “a Biblical prophecy,” as he puts it – came to fruition.
“Sometimes our audience is struck by lightning,” Davis said. “I think, in this case, they’re going to explode. People are going to be exploding.”
Pollstar: How do you even go about starting to craft a lineup for something of this magnitude?

Quint Davis: We start out by asking who are our core people that have been with us – who have been the most woven-in with us over the years? That’s Jimmy Buffett, Dave Matthews Band, Van Morrison, Santana, Earth Wind & Fire, even Pitbull – and then we want the greatest living of everything. So you look at reggae – Jimmy Cliff and Ziggy Marley. In the jazz tent is Herbie Hancock. 
Something very special there is the Ellis Marsalis Family Tribute – that’s Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis playing together, with Ellis.   
You have these core things, so to speak, which is one thing I thought was essential, and that includes Boz Scaggs, Buddy Guy closing the blues tent, Elvis Costello in there, Mavis Staples. Then the festival, at 50 years, needs to be relevant and throbbing (laughs) and popular. The word “heritage,” people think looking in the rearview. I think of heritage as looking out the window. 
You have the next generation of musicians coming on carrying the music forward, but also of people – we have great-grandchildren coming if you do the math. So you want to be going in new directions too. We have J Balvin, we have Katy Perry, Logic, The Revivalists, Alanis Morrissette. These are not all new-new-new, but they’re people we haven’t had that have been on everybody’s list – Leon Bridges, Chris Stapleton for gosh’s sake, I’m thrilled about that. 
How do you accommodate those who are playing one-offs? 
If they’re not touring and they want to come, what do you think it takes for Katy Perry to do a one-off? You have to get the band, you have to get the trucks, the equipment, the crew, your self, it’s a big thing to do, but she really wants to do it and is really excited about it. It’s a lot easier if they want to do it, to figure out a way, which is the big compliment to the festival. 
If you take the Rolling Stones and Katy Perry for example. Katy Perry has the greatest arena production in the world. I’ve been to two of her tours, not even close. The Rolling Stones have the biggest stadium production in the world, bar none. In starting to talk to them, we say we’re a daylight festival, this is our stage, it is what it is, we have no lights of course but we’ve got a lot of oyster bars (laughs). You have to come out here and just play. They’re like, “OK! We’ll do it! We’re gonna do it your way.” The magic of Jazz Fest, the reason Bruce Springsteen said his Katrina shows are the Top 10 of his life, is the daylight. Live music is the only art form where you have the artistic experience simultaneously with the artist creating it, and your energy drives it.
Talk about just some of the local flavor at Jazz Fest and what makes it unique.
We have one guest star on each stage on each day – we have an average of 88 groups per day, and we just added a day this year so we’re up to 688 groups. Other than the one national artist on each stage, all the rest of the artists are from New Orleans and southwest Louisiana. So during Katy Perry, it’s Hooray For The Riff Raff and Better Than Ezra. Santana, it’s Tab Benoit. Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt and Irma Thomas. 
Our palette is so different too. I only saw one group we had that was on another festival. Not too many other festivals have a gospel and Mardi Gras Indian bus gate. We have three jazz stages, a blues tent which is really big, a gospel tent, Cajun zydeco stage that has guests with The Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco and the Mavericks. Then we have the Congo square that is Afro-Caribbean and R&B. We have Gary Clark Jr, Kamasi Washington, North Mississippi All-Stars. John Fogerty is the Radiators and Little Feat. A lot of these people you don’t just call up and get! The fact that down here there would be that much talent, to me, is incredible. 

How about nailing the Stones? 

The Rolling Stones
Ian West/PA via AP)
– The Rolling Stones
London Stadium, London, England.

Let’s say you’re used to hiking big sand dunes in Brazil, and relatively speaking you then book Mount Everest. The Rolling Stones at Jazz Fest is a biblical prophecy. There’s a lot of big groups out there in the world, but this is the one. If there’s anything constant in all 50 years, it’s “We want the Stones at Jazz Fest.” Stones at Jazz Fest has been uttered millions of times. 
This is the 15th anniversary of our partnership with AEG. The only reason we have Katy Perry and The Rolling Stones is because AEG got them for us – pretty good partners to have (laughs). It’s been beyond heaven, it’s been really great.  When I got the call that this could be the year from Paul Gongaware from Concerts West, I’m like “woof.” Paul Gongaware never stopped trying to steer them to Jazz Fest – not convincing them it was a cool thing to do, they knew that. 
There were five or 10 touring scenarios that could have happened, it didn’t mean Jazz Fest was going to happen. But we fit in to the tour and they wanted to do it. I was already booking the day they landed on, because they weren’t on it yet and we were trying to make a great day. That day had Tom Jones, Ziggy Marley, Mavis Staples in the blues tent, and they land there. 
So now we have a festival day that has The Rolling Stones and Tom Jones on the same day! Okay? You gotta love it.