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[Review] NCAA March Madness Music Festival: Good Music, Good Food, Good Times!

Last weekend’s NCAA Men’s Final Four brought more than just college basketball fans to the City of New Orleans. The March Madness Music Festival was a free three-day event featured Khalid, Arcade Fire, The Kid LAROI and more to celebrate the championship game!

Woldenberg Park was filled with college basketball fans, local New Orleanians, and random people on vacation alike for the March Madness Music Festival this past weekend. Located right along the Mississippi River, the free festival took place for three days in celebration of this weekend’s NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball Championship games. Besides obviously catching the wide variety of musical acts, attendees could ride the Capital One Ferris Wheel, sample Coca-Cola’s new limited edition product line Starlight, or stop by AT&T to play the Xbox while checking out their latest tech!

And of course, there were good eats! Some of the food vendors on-site included Mexi Grill, Flaming Wok, Efe’s Greek Kitchen, Kebros Kitchen, Andre’s Cajun Kitchen, and Chef Scott’s Creole BBQ. Plus Pizza Hut also had a mobile kitchen on the festival grounds making fresh pizzas for purchase!

Friday, April 1: AT&T Block Party

Friday afternoon kicked off with none other than New Orleans’ own Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Their six-piece band jazzed the crowd during their hour-long set. Some fans got up close and personal at the AT&T Block Party stage while some watched from afar while seated on a picnic table along the Riverfront or on a blanket in the grassy area. And then if you were a VIP attendee with AT&T, you were able to watch the show from the comfort of the Riverboat!

Representatives from AT&T and St. Bernard Project (SBP) gathered together on stage to announce that AT&T was donating $25,000 to SBP. Then they shared that Arcade Fire had decided to match the $25,000 – totaling the donation to $50,000 to help rebuild St. Bernard and its surrounding areas that were hit by the tornado on March 22. To donate to the tornado-impacted communities or learn more, visit www.sbpusa.org.

In between sets, DJ Rusty Lazer entertained the crowd with everything from bounce remixes of Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” to a mash-up of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” And Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”

Next on stage was singer and songwriter, King Princess. She rocked the stage while rocking a Michael Jordan North Carolina jersey! After her first song she jokingly asked the crowd, “Is it basketball time in the city?” before admitting she doesn’t know much about the sport or any sports despite rocking Tar Heels gear. But she made it clear she was ready to rock out with everyone that night, especially since it was her first show ever in New Orleans! She performed her newest release “For My Friends.” She graced the stage for just under an hour with her unique voice, electrifying personality, and funny banter.

Though they started late, Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire put on quite the show. They opened with their latest release, “The Lightening I, II.” The song is a lead single from their sixth studio album ‘WE’ which is scheduled to drop on May 6. Fans could be seen dancing, jumping, and clapping along during their hour-long set which featured a variety of songs from their discography. Lead vocalist, Win Butler, jumped off the stage and into the crowd for one of their songs before telling the crowd, “Can everyone give it up for Preservation Hall? If it weren’t for Ben Jaffe, we would’ve never moved here. We love New Orleans.” As mentioned earlier, Arcade Fire matched AT&T’s donation to the St. Bernard Project of $25,000. Earlier this month, the band performed a last-minute Ukraine benefit show in NOLA. Arcade Fire is an amazing group, through and through!

Saturday, April 2: Infinite Sounds by Coca-Cola Starlight

Though it rained Saturday morning, the skies cleared up for day two of the March Madness Music Festival. With clear skies, the crowd filled Woldenberg Park to enjoy the free festivities.

Coca-Cola’s two Starlight correspondents were Christian Crosby and Alyssa Carson. You may know Alyssa as @nasablueberry on IG. The Hammond native became a local superstar after getting her rocket license before even getting her driver’s license! She and Christian kept fans entertained in between performances while also stopping by Coca-Cola’s Landing Site activation. It was an igloo-shaped dome where fans could taste Coca-Cola’s newest product, Starlight plus make their own song using words, drums, odd sounds, etc. The songs were then sent to outer space (and their phones). 

First up, New Orleans native and R&B artist, Lucky Daye hit the stage! “I’m from New Orleans. I’m going to the Grammy’s tomorrow…I have six nominations,” Daye shared with the crowd. His debut album, 2019’s Painted, scored him four nominations. His EP, Table for Two, which dropped last year got him two more nods this year for Best Traditional R&B Performance and Best Progressive R&B Album. 24 hours later, he was named a Grammy Award winner — congratulations to Lucky Daye! He recently put an album out titled Candy Drip and performed some of his new music for the crowd including “NWA,” “Used to Be,” and the title track “Candy Drip.”

DJ Poppa Don got the crowd hype by getting them to shout “BIA BIA” before the rapper took the stage as the second headliner. “I love it here,” Bia told the hype crowd. She was accompanied on stage by four dancers cladded in all black as visuals of her and her name flashed on the screen behind them. “It’s the crowd for me. I wanna get closer to the people,” the rapper shared before she got down and rapped her song “Free Bia (1st Day Out)” directly to the fans camped out in the front row of the GA crowd.  Fans were in for a treat as she performed some unreleased tracks. Bia closed out her set with her Platinum-selling song “Whole Lotta Money” where she gave one fan the mic to rap along to Nicki Minaj’s verse.

Next up was The Kid LAROI. Fans got on their friend’s shoulders, mosh pits opened, and the crowd packed in as the Australian rapper took the stage. He did not disappoint as his set included trippy visuals, pyro, and smoke! He led the crowd into a ‘Long live Juice WRLD’ chant before he performed their collaboration, “Go.” Laroi took a second to acknowledge and thank everyone for watching the live stream from home. For a lot of artists, they haven’t gotten the chance to perform the music they’ve released over the last two years. The Kid LAROI is no exception, “I don’t think I’ve ever performed this song anywhere,” LAROI told the crowd before performing his song “SELFISH” from his 2020 mixtape, F*ck Love. He, like Bia, got close up to the front row fans along with performing an unreleased song – that some fans knew almost all the lyrics to! “And now for what you’ve all been waiting for,” LAROI told the crowd before performing his #1 hit “Stay.” Closing out his set, the rapper performed his song “Without You” while holding a bag of cooked pasta given to him by a fan in the crowd. 

In between The Kid LAROI and Khalid’s set, the semi-playoffs game between Villanova vs the University of Kansas was displayed on the big screen. During commercial breaks, a QR code was shown – fans had the opportunity to scan the QR code for a chance to win second-row tickets to Monday’s Championship NCAA Men’s Final Four game to see the University of Kansas and the University of North Carolina play.

Saturday night ended with a performance by singer-songwriter, Khalid! He performed a variety of songs from his four albums – starting with songs from his debut album, American Dream. He opened with “8teen.” The second the song started, it instantly brought me back to see him headline Congo Square Stage at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2018. As visuals of city skylines and crowd were displayed on the screen, Khalid was accompanied by five dancers wearing shades of yellow and orange as the singer himself rocked a floral jean suit. In fact, the flowers on his suit looked like magnolias…an ode to the state of Louisiana or a big coincidence? “I’m really happy to be here. This is one of my first shows in a long time,” Khalid told the cheering crowd. Throughout his performance, he continued to match the energy of his fans as they sang along in the crowd. He threw hearts up, hit dance moves along with them, and beamed smiles their way. Before performing his song, “Saved” from his debut album, he opened up to the crowd about how special the song was for him. He also performed a few of his major collaborations including his song “Love Lies” that he made with New Orleans native, Normani. It came time for his last songs. He performed his diamond-certified hit, “Location” (fun fact: it’s the 75th song in history to become certified diamond)! “Thank you for rocking with me. You guys make me feel better,” Khalid expressed to the crowd after performing “Young, Dumb and Broke” and before ending off his set with “Saturday Night.”

Sunday, April 3: Capital One JamFest

I didn’t get to attend the final day of the March Madness Music Festival but the performers included: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Grouplove, Macklemore, and Imagine Dragons! From the pictures and videos I saw, it looked well attended and just as successful as the previous two days of the festival!


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