Local music festivals return to the Big Easy, feature Loyola


Hannah Renton

Loyola student NCognita performs during BUKU Music + Arts Project at the Riverside stage on March 26, 2022. NCognita is one member of the Loyola community who is making an appearance in local music again.

Gabrielle Korein, Senior Staff Photographer

Festivals are a big part of New Orleans identity as a creative haven for artists and musicians alike, making the live music and arts festival dry-spell during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic particularly taxing for residents of the city.

However, with the mask mandate lifted, the festival season in New Orleans is back in full swing with events like New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, BUKU Music + Arts Project, and French Quarter Festival returning to the city for the first time since 2019.

These music and arts festivals and others like them provide Loyola students, faculty and members of the Greater New Orleans area with unique opportunities to showcase their creative talents as well as providing increased economic stability to the city, according to multiple sources.

“We do so many festivals in New Orleans that it has been sort of a missing part of our soul,” said Jeffrey Albert, the director of Loyola’s music department. “I think people are excited about it. The musicians are definitely excited about it because it’s a nice piece of work that had gone away.”

Albert himself will be performing in the New Orleans Jazz Festival this year as he has done in years past. Despite his excitement to perform at the New Orleans Jazz Festival again, he said he was most excited this festival season to see Loyola students manage and perform on stage at the Freret Street Festival, which took place on March 26, according to Albert.

This year, Loyola’s Festival Production class, taught by Loyola alumni and music industry professor Michael Twillmann, also had the opportunity to participate. They managed and produced a whole stage at the Freret Street Festival. This stage was not only produced by Loyola students, but it also showcased both current and former Loyola students as its performers.

Managing and performing at Freret Street Festival was just one of the many opportunities afforded to Loyola students and faculty as a result of the return of festivals. While some Loyola students had the opportunity to participate in festivals due to classes like Twillmann’s, others found different strategies to make it to the festival stage.

Loyola junior and urban electronic music production major Paige “NCognita” Stevenson performed at BUKU Festival this year as a result of a deal made by her manager, fellow Loyola student Coby Cohen, and United Talent Agency, which represents her.

“It was so surreal being able to see my name among artists that I’ve loved for years and even looked up to,” Stevenson said. “The overall experience was great. Performance wise, it was great. It was a great start to whatever is to come.”

BUKU Festival provided Stevenson with a unique opportunity to network with other creatives and potential fans as well as perform for her fans both new and old, she said.

“It was dope seeing people that didn’t even know me really interact with me on stage,” Stevenson said. “I am grateful for festivals coming back into the city. People know New Orleans is lively and is really known for the culture and the music. A lot of that was missing during (COVID-19) because of the circumstances and for it to be coming back to the city it is nice to see the city kind of lift its shield again.”

New Orleans native and Loyola popular and commercial music instructor Mia Borders said she is also excited over the opportunities afforded to students, staff, and the city as a whole by the return of music and arts festivals.

Borders spent much of her youth attending music and arts festivals around the city and was saddened to see them disappear at the beginning of the pandemic. With the return of these festivals, Borders urges her students to experience these events to the fullest.

Like Albert, Borders will be also playing in the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this year. Borders has played in Jazz Fest since 2010 and looks forward to returning to the festival stage after two years of festival cancellations.

“It’s good to get back to live performing. I love playing outdoors,” she said. “It’s good to start to get back to normal and just to be able to see my friends play and to play with my friends. It’s a good time. (COVID-19) hit us hard, especially in the entertainment and service industry so this is our big moment.”

Editor’s Note: This article was last updated Friday, April 8 to correct a misspelling in Coby Cohen’s name and reflect that NCognita, but not her manager, is represented by United Talent Agency.