Best Places for Live Music in New Orleans
Surrender to the magic and celebration of New Orleans music and dance until you drop.
In New Orleans, no celebration is complete without music, and with melodies played on the street and in clubs daily, it’s a city of continuous celebration. Just try walking down the street without moving in time to the jazzy licks of a clarinet in a sidewalk band, or try not running down the street to catch a brass band second line parade. New Orleans is just not New Orleans without its music.
The Crescent City is often referred to as “the cradle of jazz,” because it’s the hometown of a number of early jazz luminaries, including Charles “Buddy” Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. But New Orleans jazz is just part of the larger fabric of music, which stretches to include blues and Latin, Cajun and zydeco, African and Caribbean. And the best way to experience all this great influence on your New Orleans vacation, this daily celebration, is to get out and hear some live, local music.
Where to Hear Live Music in New Orleans
It’s a serendipitous discovery: walk into a New Orleans music club or bar, sit down and become entranced by a group you’ve never heard before. With the variety and quality of live music in New Orleans, it’s hard to go wrong. If you like to be a little more organized, look up music listings in Offbeat (a free monthly magazine found throughout the city), the Gambit Weekly or the Times Picayune (the city’s newspaper).
This music club was named after “Tipitina,” a song by Henry Roeland Byrd, known as Professor Longhair. The original Tipitina’s, opened in 1977 and one of the best-known clubs in the city, is Uptown, although a second club was added in the French Quarter in 1998. The roster of local artists who have performed here (Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Galactic) is full of Crescent City greats, but Tip’s also hosts superstar national artists as well. If that isn’t enough, Tipitina’s also has a recording studio and record label, and regularly hosts special events to support emerging talent. Uptown: 501 Napoleon Ave., French Quarter: 233 N. Peters St., tel. 504-895-TIPS (8477). www.tipitinas.com
Maple Leaf Bar
Located in the Carrollton neighborhood in Uptown, the Maple Leaf Bar is the place for funk, blues and brass bands. It was the first live music venue to reopen after Hurricane Katrina. With its pressed-tin ceiling and walls, the place fits perfectly among the best New Orleans music clubs. Sweat it out and dance until you drop in the main room, or relax on the deck. When it’s really hot and crowded, the life of the club spills out into the street, and you can still hear the music out on the sidewalk. 8316 Oak St., tel. 504-866-9359.
Mid City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl
Referred to simply as Rock ‘n’ Bowl, this place is much more than a bowling alley. While you can don the cool shoes and bowl away, I guarantee you’ll be dancing down the lanes if you’re here when a band is playing. The sound of the crashing pins with the crashing drums and blaring horns is special music at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl. I spent a birthday here getting serenaded by Beau Jocque and Boozoo Chavis, and I’ll remember that night for the rest of my life. 4133 S. Carrollton Ave., tel. 504-482-3133. www.rockandbowl.com
Donna’s Bar & Grill
Donna’s is right at the back of the French Quarter on Rampart Street. Not only is this spot well known for its live jazz music, it’s a great place to get some yummy barbecue. 800 N. Rampart St., tel. 504-596-6914. www.donnasbarandgrill.com
On the club-packed two-block stretch of Frenchmen Street which begins at Esplanade Avenue, you can catch some of the best music in the city. Forget Bourbon Street—this is where the locals are. Duck in at the Dragon’s Den, then meander down the street to sample bands at The Blue Nile, Apple Barrel Bar, d.b.a., The Spotted Cat and Snug Harbor. If things get too crowded, get a “go cup” and take your drink outside to enjoy the melange of music from the curb. Dragon’s Den: 435 Esplanade Ave., tel. 504-949-1750. The Blue Nile: 534 Frenchmen St., tel. 504-948-2583. www.bluenilelive.com
Apple Barrel Bar: 609 Frenchmen St., tel. 504-949-9399. d.b.a.: 618 Frenchmen St., tel. 504-942-3731. www.drinkgoodstuff.com The Spotted Cat: 623 Frenchmen St., tel. 504-943-3887.
Snug Harbor: 626 Frenchmen St., tel. 504-949-0696. www.snugjazz.com
Carousel Bar and Lounge
The Carousel Bar and Lounge, in the Hotel Monteleone, features pianist John Autin on Wednesday through Saturday nights. Sit at the slowly revolving bar, and try a Sazerac—New Orleans’ most famous cocktail. 214 Royal St., tel. 504-523-3341. www.hotelmonteleone.com
This comfortable, down-home club is at the far end of the Bywater neighborhood, downriver from the French Quarter. Hit Vaughan’s Lounge on Thursday nights to see Kermit Ruffins play a late night set with a healthy break for a taste of some barbecue straight from the grill in the back of his pickup truck. 800 Lesseps St., tel. 504-947-5562.
Other New Orleans Music Venues and Options
The Old Point Bar, across the river in Algiers, has an early set on Sunday afternoons (times vary). Lintz Rivera, a volunteer and Live Wire host at WWOZ radio (the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage station), says that this is a great place to please a family. “Our group included my mom and my 2-year-old nephew. He got to enjoy the ferry ride over, and my mom sat with him at the picnic tables outside the club,” she says. “The windows were open, so they got to hear the music while we were inside.” Bring the family, or just bring yourself. You can walk the few blocks from the ferry, or ride on over if you’ve rented bicycles in town. 545 Patterson, tel. 504-364-0950. www.oldpointbar.com
The Cajun Fais Do Do at Tipitina’s Uptown on Sundays at 5:30 p.m. is a great place to catch some traditional Louisiana French music with Cajun and Zydeco material. Get a regular to teach you how to dance for the best experience.
Music on the Mississippi
With the Mississippi River at the edge of the city, why not take your show on the water? The Steamboat Natchez, always a source of New Orleans entertainment, offers a casual buffet dinner with entertainment by the Dukes of Dixieland on a two-hour evening cruise. The cruise runs from 7 to 9 p.m. (boarding at 6 p.m.). Tickets: $64.50 for adults, $32.25 for children ages 6 to 12, $12.25 for children ages 2 to 5. Tickets are also available for the jazz cruise, minus dinner. www.steamboatnatchez.com
WWOZ (90.7 FM). Listen to the radio while in town, then online at www.wwoz.org after you get home, for a great mix of New Orleans musicians and more.
Louisiana Music Factory. Bring home some music. If you’re in town for Jazz Fest, the store has a line-up of great performances while you browse through the racks. Can’t decide which you like best? Pick up Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big ‘Ol Box of New Orleans box set, one of my favorites. 210 Decatur St., tel. 504-586-1094. www.louisianamusicfactory.com
Destinations: New Orleans
Activities: Arts and Entertainment
The best live jazz is at Irvin Mayfield Jazz Playhouse on Bourbon street in the Sonesta Hotel! Every time I go to NOLA it's a must to listen to some real jazz. Check out the calendar at www.sonesta.com/RoyalNewOrleans/
New Orleans Music Vaughan's is a great place, but my favorite thing is hearing John Boutte on Saturday nights at d.b.a. (when he's in town). It's a 7pm set, which is a great relief from staying up late every single night.