Family Gras in Metairie drew record crowds, early figures suggest

Detroit resident Karen Thurston has traveled around United States in her quest to follow the concert tour of original Jackson 5 member Tito Jackson, including Las Vegas, Long Beach, Calif., and Atlanta.

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But apparently no place compares to Metairie, where Thurston, 45, and friends from Vancouver, Canada, and Jacksonville, Fla., caught Jackson jam Saturday afternoon at Family Gras.

“I’ve never been to a place to see so many friendly, loving people. Nobody treated us the way you guys did. It was like a family gathering. Everybody was so friendly, loving and helpful. We had a blast,” she said by telephone on Tuesday.

Jefferson Parish officials say Thurston and her friends joined record-breaking crowds during Family Gras’s this weekend. The free, three-day festival returned to the neutral ground on Veterans Memorial Boulevard at Causeway Boulevard after taking a hiatus in 2010 for the Saints’ Super Bowl run.

About 80,000 people attended the last Family Gras. Final figures aren’t in, but event organizer Violet Peters is confident they surpassed the 2009 totals.

“The estimated numbers are about 85,000 to 90,000,” said Peters, the president and CEO of the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Saturday was the biggest draw with multiple acts on the main Festival Stage. The crowd sometimes spilled into the streets during the performance by British pop star Natasha Bedingfield. But Peters said the variety of acts generated an audience turnover that helped push attendance numbers.

Thurston gave Jackson’s performance great reviews. Peters said the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer packed the interview tent, a new feature at Family Gras this year. It was meant to give attendees an opportunity to get some background insight into the artists, but it quickly turned into a meet-and-greet.

“That really wasn’t the intent of the tent,” Peters said, “but the artists were so agreeable. They did autographs and pictures, which thrilled fans.”

While the mature set got wound up over Jackson, Peters said the teens and tweens were screeching and squealing over Honor Society, a male pop group that has toured with Disney boy band, The Jonas Brothers.

Family Gras spokesman Greg Buisson said the art market station in the parking lot of Whole Foods Market did well, as did the Flambeau food Court.

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In 2009, Jefferson Parish officials said Family Gras generated about $6.3 million in overall revenue for local businesses. The University of New Orleans is still tabulating the visitor’s study Peters said. She said the figures should be ready in about a month.

But officials aren’t waiting on them to call the return of Family Gras a success.

“This was our smoothest year yet,” Peters said.


Michelle Hunter can be reached at or 504.883.7054.