April 26th, 2014
02:30 PM ET
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If the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival had a Mayor, Vance Vaucresson could be a serious contender.

Even when he's behind his family's sausage po-boy tent, tucked under a New Orleans Saints ball cap and wearing sunglasses, five minutes don't go by without someone stopping by to say hello to him.

"It's like a reunion around here," Vaucresson said between visits. "We're a family, all the vendors."

He shakes a lot of hands, and says a lot of hellos.

"He's just a super friendly, personable guy," festival food director Michelle Nugent said.

Besides Vaucresson's friendly disposition and sparkling blue eyes that make him political gold, he also has history on his side. His family has been a staple at the festival for 45 years.

He admits he doesn't remember the first Jazz Fest in 1969 – he was just a baby – but growing up at the festival, he's heard a lot of stories.

Perhaps the most important of those – by his own father, Robert "Sonny" Vaucresson, the first man of color to own a restaurant in the French Quarter,

According to Vaucresson, it was there, at Vaucresson's Café Creole, where the festival's first brainstorming session took place. His father joined George Wein and other players to come up with the idea.

Since he had a restaurant, the organizers invited Vaucresson's father to make sausage po-boys, wrap them in foil and sell them at the festival, which was hardly a success, according to his dad.

"'Son,' he said, 'There were more musicians than there were attendees.'"

But it wasn't without memorable moments. Fresh from playing on Bourbon Street, Duke Ellington was among the first Jazz Fest performers, Vaucresson said, and, according to his dad, "this mousy skinny white guy that was following all of the veteran brass musicians around."

"Of course they didn't know then, but it was Woody Allen," Vaucresson said.

As if his culinary contributions weren't enough to make him a viable contender for Jazz Fest Mayor, Vaucresson also contributes to the festival musically, singing back up with his cousins in the Gospel and Jazz tents.

Now in its 45th year, with 12 stages and 500 acts, Jazz Fest draws crowds of more than 400,000 people from all over the world.

But just like in 1969, the Vaucresson sausage po-boy is available for sale alongside 60 of Louisiana's finest food vendors serving up dishes like crawfish streudel, shrimp and grits and jambalaya.

Vaucresson, like many of the other vendors who come back year after year, has made it his mission to continue on his father's legacy.

"He takes what he does out here very seriously," Nugent said.

That's not an easy task, considering the cooking restraints that exist in a festival setting and the sheer volume of people.

"It's a difficult festival to do," she said, "It takes a lot of personnel, a lot of groceries. These people basically have to put their life on hold for three weeks."

Vaucresson admits it's a tough gig, but after 45 years, it's a part of his DNA.

"Some families went on vacation," he said, "We had Jazz Fest."

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Filed under: Events • Jazz Fest • New Orleans • New Orleans • Regional Sandwiches • Sandwiches

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Carn E. Vore

    Jazz fest would be awesome if it were anywhere else but that craphole city.

    May 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm |
  2. Amy

    Wow, Nikki! So quick to attack and yet you are the one not READING correctly!

    April 28, 2014 at 2:44 pm |
  3. Nikki

    Jazz Fest is no longer held at Congo Square. It started at Congo Square 45 years ago, but it's not held at the Fair Grounds Race Course. Maybe you should check your facts!

    April 27, 2014 at 10:36 am |
    • Nikki

      NOW held at the Fair Grounds Race Course- please excuse the typo.

      April 27, 2014 at 10:37 am |
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