* With four stages, two often going at once, you'll have some decisions to make. The big names pack 'em in, so if you have to see the Nevilles up close, get there ahead - by like an hour.
* The Jam will go on rain or shine. Performers are protected from the weather, but only the Alligator Alley Tent covers (and seats) spectators. So bring an umbrella. A beach chair's not a bad idea, either.
* Take time out from the music to eat - and check out the work of Louisiana and Philadelphia artisans. You'll find carved wood, glass and silver jewelry, and a whole slew of crafts made from alligator, from keychains to berets. They'll be there pretty much through the festival hours, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, till 9 on Monday.
None of this is new, of course, and neither is the music. But it's hard to go wrong with these headliners on the USAir Mardi Gras Stage:
THE NEVILLE BROTHERS. Playing Saturday and Sunday nights, they are a legend in the music world, serving up their steamy gumbo of pop, R & B and funk for the last two decades. Art Neville, the eldest of the four brothers, has been a key figure in the evolution of the distinctive sounds associated with New Orleans. He formed his first band, the Hawkettes, more than four decades ago, 20 years before he teamed up with his brothers; his sideline project, the
Meters, is considered one of the world's greatest funk bands.
DR. JOHN. The Doctor plays his brand of bawdy, swinging R & B known as ''swamp rock" for one set Monday night. A two-time Grammy winner and prolific songwriter, Mac Rebbenack - a.k.a. Dr. John the Night Tripper - is a one-man Mardi Gras and the living embodiment of the Professor Longhair New Orleans piano tradition.
RANDY NEWMAN. If the healthy vibes of funk and R & B aren't your cup of tea, there's always the wry Newman, who will ply the crowd Sunday night with his unique - some say perverse - satire-in-song. He hasn't been around these parts much for a while, so here's your chance to catch him live.
And yet this is just the tip of the iceberg: the Jam offers a dozen other bands, from the legendary Big Easy soul queen Irma Thomas to the steaming hot, flamboyant R & B licks of the Reggie Hall Band.
Last but certainly not least is traditional Cajun and zydeco. Zydeco is the accordion-driven music of southwestern Louisiana's French-speaking Creoles, and Buckwheat Zydeco is one of its acknowledged masters. Cajun, which has a more pronounced French influence, will be played by the Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band, which mixes traditional Cajun with more contemporary influences.
But even we can't live on music alone, and the Jam will offer plenty of opportunities for some serious stomach stuffing: spicy finger-lickin' offerings of traditional New Orleans cuisine such as Creole crabcake po'boy, roast pork (porchetta) sandwiches, Zapp's crawtaters and shrimp remoulade to homegrown Philly treats such as cheesesteaks and pretzels for the less adventurous. And plenty of Coors (you can't bring your own).
Don't worry about finding a baby sitter for the little ones. The Jambalaya Jam is about as kid-friendly as they come, with a separate Junior Jam in a special area of its own, from noon to 6 each day. A variety of craft stations coordinated by the Please Touch Museum will offer children ages 2 to 12 a chance to make Mardi Gras masks, craft their own musical instruments and design beaded necklaces.
On the Junior Jam Stage, storyteller Vickey Lusk will tell tales, while the folks at Allons Danser will teach kids to two-step, and Omomola Iyabunmi will show them how to play the African shakra.
The stuff for juniors is all free with admission, which is all of $1 for kids. The rest of us pay $15 a day at the gate - not a bad deal, either, particularly if you can come up with the cash today, when it's $12.