New Orleans works her wily exotic charms most effectively after dark, when the jazz singers and cocktail slingers ply their magic. It is impossible to imagine this city without a soundtrack of jazz, brass bands, R&B, hip hop, Cajun, and zydeco. After all, this is the town that sends you to your grave with music and then dances back from the cemetery. It’s the city that lets the good times roll, and lets you take them to go (you can stroll the streets with a drink in hand, as long as it’s in a plastic “go cup”—or “geaux” to use the faux-French). Here, some of the world’s greatest musicians (no exaggeration) can be seen and heard with relative ease in remarkably intimate surroundings. And when the clubs get too full, no matter: The crowd spills into the street, where the talking, drinking, and dancing continue.
We’ll help you wend your way through all the awesomeness, but don’t forget that tomorrow beckons, with more of the city’s enchantments to explore. First, a few things to know:
* Club hopping is easy. The city is relatively compact, so most clubs are within easy walking or taxi distance from your hotel or dinner locale. Many are closely clustered so you can hop from one to another. Club clusters can be found on Bourbon Street in the Quarter; Frenchmen Street in the Marigny; Tchoupitoulas Street in the Warehouse District; and around Willow Street in the Riverbend.
* Showtimes vary. Posted start and end times range from strict to strictly a suggestion (and sometimes indicate door times, not show times). Call if your schedule depends on it.
* Yes, they card. Some clubs allow 18-year-olds, and a few allow kids to early shows when accompanied by a parent (Three Muses, Maison, Rock ‘n’ Bowl). Mostly, though, it’s 21+ and expect to be carded. Even you, grandpa. It's da law.
* No cover doesn’t mean free. It means buy drinks (bottled water counts) and tip the band (and/or buy their CDs, merch, whatever).
* Early shows rock. Shows starting anywhere from 4 to 7pm are often no or low cover, mellower music, and a great way to avoid the crowds and the crazy.
* Cover charges vary widely. During big events and for big acts, they can be much higher than cited here. Crowd sizes also vary accordingly.
* Music is everywhere. A blurry line separates “clubs” from bars, restaurants, hotel lounges, streets, parks, and front stoops. All can showcase music, so don’t overlook them.
* What’s going on: Check Offbeat.com and sign up for “Weekly Beats” e-mails or go to WWOZ.org/livewire (you can also tune in to 90.7; club lineups are announced at the top of every odd hour). Both have good apps, worthy of downloading for the duration of your visit (and after).
Can’t-Miss New Orleans Musical Experiences
- Kermit Ruffins, anywhere he and his rowdy trumpet show up (try Blue Nile, Little Gem, Bullets, or the iconic Mother-in-Law Lounge, which he now owns).
- The Soul Rebels brass band’s roof-raising Thursday sets at Les Bon Temps Roulé.
- The soul-wrenching, party-starting early set of the sublime John Boutté at d.b.a.
- Multi-instrumentalist (and mad musical mastermind) Aurora Nealand with her Royal Roses or in other forms. Try to keep your toes from tapping. Just. Try.
- The mellow tones and vivid lyrics of folk-leaning Paul Sanchez, Alexandra Scott, or troubadour Andrew Duhon.
- Piano wizards Tom McDermott, Josh Paxton, or Jon Cleary, solo or not.
- Swank hotel lounging. Try the Davenport Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton, the Monteleone’s Carousel Bar, or the Windsor Court’s Polo Club.
- Catching someone huge like Pearl Jam or Bonnie Raitt at Tipitina’s (give the Fess Head statue an extra rub for your good fortune).
- Brilliant singer-songwriter-guitarist and Death Valley dry wit Alex McMurray solo or in any of his many guises, like the Tin Men trio (or if you hit the jackpot, doing sea shanties with the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus).
- Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf on a Tuesday. Or anywhere, any day.
- Bounce queen Big Freedia live at the Republic. Or anywhere, any day, also.
- Bowling and dancing at Rock ‘n’ Bowl, especially on zydeco night.
- Excellent modern jazz in a quality room, like Snug Harbor, Little Gem, or the Jazz Playhouse.
- Seeing the Stooges, Hot 8, Soul Rebels, TBC, or Rebirth and finally getting what this brass band thing is all about—and never wanting it to stop.
- Dr. Michael White, whose dulcet clarinet snake-charms even diehard jazz cynics.
- DJ Soul Sister, whose rainbow flow jams the floor monthly at One Eyed Jacks.
- Don Vappie on banjo, perhaps the swingingest strumming you’ll ever see.
- The Wild Magnolias. Just. See. Them. Or any Mardi Gras Indians band.
- Corey Henry ripping the roof off of Vaughan’s in the storied Thursday-night slot.
- Catching King James & Special Men, Flow Tribe, or Brass-a-Holics before they get any huger. Later you can say you knew them when.
- A show at Preservation Hall, where the soul of traditional jazz oozes from the instruments as much as from the ancient-looking walls.
- Superstar Trombone Shorty if he happens to be back in town on his home turf.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.