Bounce music icon Big Freedia has traveled the world and lent a voice to some of the most lauded songs on the charts, collaborating with artists such as Beyoncé, Drake and Lizzo. But for the church choir singer-turned-rapper, performing on the Festival Stage at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest — which begins Friday — is the accomplishment of a lifetime.
Big Freedia’s New Orleans favorites for shrimp po’ boys and live music
“Jazz Fest has always been a big staple here in New Orleans for people to come from all around the world,” said Big Freedia, who grew up in Uptown New Orleans. “So I’m very excited now that I get to play the Jazz Fest — from going as a kid, and now being an adult, being one of the main acts at Jazz Fest.”
Jazz Fest, which celebrates the city’s rich jazz history as well as music from all over the world, draws about 400,000 guests to the Crescent City each year. Big Freedia is scheduled to perform Friday afternoon, when she planned to debut a collaboration with Ciara from the forthcoming album “Central City.” But she knows the joy of the festival goes beyond the stage.
The bounties of New Orleans extend to its long-standing restaurants, lively bars and vibrant community. The rapper will add her own imprint to the city’s abiding history of hospitality with plans to open her own hotel and entertainment venue. In the meantime, she’s keeping busy with other business ventures, including rolling out a cannabis brand and starting beauty and fragrance lines. The rapper will give glimpses into her business pursuits in her reality TV return, “Big Freedia Means Business,” which airs this summer on Fuse.
The Washington Post talked to Big Freedia ahead of Jazz Fest to ask her advice for enjoying a trip to New Orleans. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What’s your earliest memory of Jazz Fest?
A: My mom used to love to go see Frankie Beverly and Maze. There has always been a tradition for him to come to Jazz Fest. And so she will always go, and sometimes she will bring us on one of the weekends. And we will get all of the great food and go through all the different booths. There’s so many things to do — shopping and the Gospel Tent and just the different stages.
Q: Anything exciting in your set?
A: This year, I’m adding some orchestra strings. Every year I try to switch up the show, maybe the amount of dancers or just the plan or my set. It’s gonna be about 20-something people onstage with me. So we’re gonna definitely rock out and entertain the people.
Q: What’s the number-one thing someone a newcomer to the festival should know about New Orleans?
A: Dress very cool. Rain is not usually something that we hope for, but it’s always popping up out of nowhere in the forecast. So maybe have on some very comfortable shoes or some shoes that you really don’t care too much about because they may become rainy and very muddy.
Q: Okay, let’s talk food and bars. Where should people go?
A: For food, they should visit Neyow’s Creole Café. They should visit Morrow’s. They should probably go to Manchu Kitchen and get some fried chicken. They probably should go to Cajun Seafood and get some seafood — and there’s a few locations, so any one will work.
For nightclubs; they should be able to go to Republic NOLA, Toulouse Theatre, Blue Nile, the Dragon’s Den. There’s a few big ones that they can go to get the nightlife experience. Also, just like cool places where they want to have drinks or get something to eat, like the rooftop at the Ace Hotel, they can go to the Virgin Hotel on their rooftop, very cool spot. They also have Peter & Paul Hotel bar.
They want to do some shopping, maybe go to the French Quarter and the Riverwalk. And if they want to do something just like nonrelated to any of that, they can go do a swamp tour.
Q: Any classic institutions?
A: They should visit Cafe Du Monde to get some beignets. Cafe Du Monde is probably one of the longest-running spots that people can go to get that fun little dessert.
Q: What’s a dish someone absolutely must get in New Orleans?
A: A po’ boy, of course. A great po’ boy or get some great chargrilled oysters from one of the oyster bars. And New Orleans has a lot of different places that offer that. Anything seafood, fried fish, or some type of crawfish étouffée or something of that sort. Red beans and rice, gumbo — all of those are great staples of New Orleans.
Q: What’s your favorite po’ boy?
A: My favorite is a shrimp po’ boy, you know? And my second favorite is probably a hot sausage po’ boy. And you can get po’ boys from just about anywhere, but I like to get mines from this place called Louisiana Discount Market. Just the softness of the bread. The bread is the most important part. Have the right texture of the bread, and everything else falls in line.
Q: Thoughts on the end of a 35-year run for the crawfish bread vendor at Jazz Fest?
A: I’m devastated and heartbroken. I heard something about the bread pudding, too, and I’m very saddened about that. That’s one of my favorite things to get at Jazz Fest, the white chocolate bread pudding, and they said that will not be coming back as well.
Q: You’ve toured all around the world. What’s your favorite hotel you’ve stayed in?
A: Honestly, the Aman in New York. It’s a very luxury hotel. I mean, the service there is impeccable, the aesthetic of the room. I mean, when I opened the bathroom door, you know the toilet seat raises up and it was unbelievable.
Q: What was the most fun part of starting a hotel?
A: Just the excitement of opening the hotel has been the most fun process. And being able to have my own staple here in New Orleans that people can come to visit to stay, to eat, and to enjoy some great food and music.
Q. You’re poised to become perhaps the most visible queer owner of a hotel in the United States. Are there aspects of this hotel that are geared toward queer guests that one might not find in a heterosexual, cisgender-owned hotel?
A: Oh, well, it’s owned by a queer [laughter]. So it will be very queer-friendly, and it will have a lot of things to cater to the queer community and it will represent, you know, most definitely for the LGBTQ community because I’m a big part of that and it will be represented and shown in my hotel.