Music is one of the world's most powerful unifiers, and music festivals from Woodstock to Lollapalooza have proved that point. Whether the beat is electronic or alternative, festival crowds of all ages and races come together for the sole purpose of serious grooving. As summer approaches, fans await announcements involving their favorite bands at preferred fests, weighing the cost of attendance versus the letdown of missing out. From April to September, jazz festivals take center stage, and events in New Orleans, Montreal and Newport have developed cultlike followings for their ability to deliver the goods year after year. Here's the scoop. Just remember: the music's guaranteed; pray for sunshine.
NEW ORLEANS JAZZ AND HERITAGE FESTIVAL
WHEN April 27-May 6
New Orleans may be famous for Mardi Gras, but it's New Orleans' Jazz Fest that speaks to the heart of this Louisiana city. Running 10 days and spanning two weekends, Jazz Fest is a euphoric celebration of all things "N'awlins" -- from music to food to locally made arts and crafts -- and each year, 400,000 rabid fans from around the world descend on the Fair Grounds Race Course to devour an A-list of music legends jamming under the hot Southern sun.
Celebrating its 43rd year with blues, zydeco, folk, Latin, rap and, of course, jazz, the lineup includes legends Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Tom Petty, the Foo Fighters, Cee Lo Green, Herbie Hancock and My Morning Jacket, along with New Orleans staples such as Grammy-nominated Trombone Shorty, the Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Pete Fountain. But for many, the attraction of Jazz Fest isn't just music; it's also about the food.
Repeat attendees have a plan of attack for getting their Creole cookin' fix at the two food villages inside the grounds. Whether you're craving Cajun jambalaya, crawfish Monica (NOLA's version of mac 'n' cheese) or andouille gumbo, it's served by loyal vendors such as Vance Vaucresson of Vaucresson's Sausage Co., who has been dishing up hot sausage po-boys since Jazz Fest's inaugural year. After you've topped off with a beignet, head over to the Gospel Tent for some serious soul, and then scour the other 11 stages for more bayou sounds.
Miss a fairground favorite because you were busy munching on a muffuletta? No sweat. Jazz Fest by night -- and, I mean all night -- is equally rewarding. From sunset to sunrise, the streets of New Orleans run hot with rhythm. Piano and saxophone riffs float out the doorways of fabled venues such as Blue Nile and Tipitina's, while French horns and tubas belt out the blues on Bourbon Street. Don't-miss shows? Trombone Shorty at the Mahalia Jackson Theater (May 4; $42.50; 800-745-3000; mahaliajacksontheater.com), and The Funky Meters at Howlin' Wolf (May 5; $70; 504-529-5844; thehowlinwolf .com). If you can't score a ticket to these, map out your own nightly schedule using the "Nearly World Famous" Jazz Fest Grids (jazzfestgrids.com).
After the music bender, cure the hangover with a traditional Jazz Brunch at beloved Commanders Palace (1403 Washington Ave.; 504-899-8221; commanderspalace.com) or oysters and Bloody Marys at Acme (724 Iberville St.; 504-522-5973; acmeoyster.com). If you're feeling fancy, reserve a table at James Beard-nominated Cochon (930 Tchoupitoulas St.; 504-588-2123; cochonrestaurant.com). When sleep finally beckons, tuck into the French Quarter's new boutique hotel The Saint (931 Canal St.; 504-522-5400; thesainthotelneworleans.com; rooms from $189), or the atmospheric Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St.; 504-523-3341; hotelmonteleone.com; rates from $149), a literary landmark that recently renovated its kitschy revolving carousel bar.
INFO Advance single-day tickets to Jazz Fest are $50 online, $65 at the gate. Children's tickets (ages 2-10) are $5, and only available at the gate. For ticketing and information, visit nojazzfest.com.
FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE JAZZ DE MONTRÉAL
WHEN June 28 to July 7
A small festival inaugurated with a show by the late, great Ray Charles in 1980, Montreal's Jazz Fest now welcomes more than 2 million attendees and 2,500 musicians from more than 20 countries. Set in the heart of the city's downtown Quartier des Spectacles and heading into its 33rd year, Montreal Jazz Fest will feature more than 800 concerts -- many free -- in addition to ticketed indoor events.
This year's headliner is Norah Jones, who returns after a nine-year absence. Other marquee names include Ben Harper, James Taylor, Liza Minnelli, B.B. King, Seal, Céu, Esperanza Spalding, Chris Botti and electronic sensation Tangerine Dream. Looking for a little friendly musical competition? The Battle of the Bands pits the Duke Ellington Orchestra against the Count Basie Orchestra. If it's a guitar you desire, the Montreal Guitar Show will showcase handmade instruments by 130 respected global guitar makers.
When you need a break from the music, Montreal is the perfect city for a culinary timeout. Influenced by France, but inherently Canadian, the interplay of these dramatically different cultures cultivates some decadent cuisine. Be it Québécois fast food such as poutine -- French fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy, or smoked sausage, Montreal delivers. A carnivorous feast can always be found at Au Pied de Cochon (536 Duluth Est; 514-281-1114; restaurantaupieddecochon.ca), where the title dish, "pig's foot," is stuffed with foie gras and shouldn't be missed. Swank siblings Garde Manger and Le Bremner (408 Saint-François-Xavier/361 Rue Saint Paul Est; 514-678-5044/ 514-544-0446; crownsalts.com), helmed by celebrity chef Chuck Hughes, remain the hottest tables in town, but if you're just looking for authentic bistro fare, the standout is L'Express (3927 rue Saint-Denis, 514-845-5333; restaurant lexpress.ca) for steak frites and a glass of Bordeaux.
Old Montreal's cobblestone streets are filled with cozy bars, contemporary art galleries and boutique hotels that run parallel to the waterfront. Elegant and opulent, Hotel Le St-James (355 Saint-Jacques St.; 514-841-3111; hotellestjames .com; rates from $400) is the indulgent choice, while the less grand, though equally impressive Hotel Nelligan (106 Saint-Paul St. W.; 514-788-2040; hotelnelligan.com; rates from $250) wows overnighters with its exposed stone architecture.
INFO Though most outdoor events are free, ticketed indoor events vary in time, date and price. Full schedule and ticketing information can be found at montrealjazzfest.com.
NEWPORT FOLK AND JAZZ FESTIVALS
WHEN July 28-29, and Aug. 3-5
Newport, R.I., is New England seascape where working-class fishermen, America's Cup sailors, and wealthy socialites all play nice in each other's sandboxes. Boasting regal Bellevue Avenue mansions built by Vanderbilts and Astors, and weather-beaten marinas that serve fresh-caught shellfish on paper plates, Newport has two sides. Regattas and polo dominate the early season, but when the heart of summer arrives, so do the melody makers.
Over two peak weekends, Fort Adams State Park transforms into a wonderland of local and international folk and jazz talent that turns Newport out. Blurring together, Newport's Folk and Jazz Festivals are both sponsored by The Newport Festivals Foundation, which continues the legacy that began in 1954. Though the schedule is still unfolding, Folk Festival has megastars such as My Morning Jacket sharing the mic with icons such as Jackson Browne and the Guthries, younger artists such as Conor Oberst, and Iron & Wine, and soulful crooners such as Patty Griffin.
When Jazz Festival rolls around the following weekend, it will feature Pat Metheny, Unity Band with Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez and Ben Williams; vocalist Dianne Reeves; Bill Frisell, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Kurt Elling.
New England summers scream lobster rolls and pie, and at The Mooring (Sayers Wharf; 401-846-2260; mooringrestaurant.com) you can take in killer harbor views, order the day's catch and nurse a rosé from their 700-label list. Dive bar more your speed? Flo's Clam Shack (4 Wave Ave.; 401-847-8141) sells fried fish, chips and chowders known throughout the state. For farm-to-table goodness, from burgers to Atlantic cod, try Talullah on Thames (464 Thames St.; 401-849-2433; tallulahonthames.com), and for local scenery, it's Perro Salado (19 Charles St.; 401-619-4777; perrosalado.com), a two-story Mexican joint that does Thursday night right with Honky Tonk Knights, a Newport band in the spirit of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.
Two of Newport's most coveted hotels are offering summer packages. At seaside Castle Hill Inn (590 Ocean Dr.; 888-466-1355; castlehillinn .com), a Relais and Châteaux property and landmark lighthouse, two nights including breakfast, afternoon tea, a three-course dinner for two, and tickets to a Newport Mansion start at $1,130. Forty 1° North (351 Thames St.; 401-846-8018; 41north.com), a luxury, eco-friendly marina property certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, offers VIP Jazz Festival packages including two premium nights, boat transport to and from the festival, and two all-access festival passes for $1,300.