Apr 16, 2012 6:09 AM by AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The French Quarter Festival, a free four-day music festival centered in this city's historic center, saw what some long-time performers said were the largest crowds ever for a festival that's been around since the 1980s.
"This is the biggest I've seen it," jazz trumpeter Leroy Jones told the Times-Picayune after a midday set with one of his bands, New Orleans' Finest.
Throngs of people packed the French Quarter and listened to music on 22 stages around the old city center.
"This thing done blew up. It's catching up to Jazz Fest," said Julius McKee, 45, as he lugged his sousaphone through the streets to busk in front of Cafe du Monde.
The festival was to wrap up Sunday night after featuring about 800 musicians.
There is no admission, but vendors sell cocktails and food to help subsidize the event. Private and corporate sponsors pay for the musicians.
Many streets in the French Quarter were blocked off to cars and quickly filled up with pedestrians and bicyclists. Many of those arriving by car had to park long distances away to find free street parking.
The crowds were thickest and moved the slowest along the riverfront, where big-name performers like Glen David Andrews, Walter "Wolfman" Washington and the Hot 8 Brass Band drew thousands of fans.
The World Famous N'awlins Cafe & Spice Emporium had customers lined up three deep for lunch.
"This is bigger than the Jazz Fest," said Arthur Humphries, whose family has run the place since 1890. The shop was doing brisk sales of soft shell crabs, barbecued shrimp, Caouane turtle and hot sausage.
"It's more locals, but plenty of tourists too," Humphries said.
Trumpeter Jones, 54, remembered how he played at the first French Quarter Festival in 1984. That event now feels almost tiny by comparison, said Jones and longtime neighbors like photographer Louis Sahuc, 69, who also recalled the event's beginnings in 1984.