Garden District, New OrleansMusic

What’s That Sound? New Orleans’ Music Scene Exploding

New Orleans horn players

Photo credit: joebrandt/E+ collection/Getty Images

 

When it comes to New Orleans music, you can’t go wrong — whether you’re hitting jazz clubs on Frenchmen Street, running the Bourbon Street gauntlet, or listening to a busker band on Royal Street.

There’s never been a better time to discover the city’s sounds. Bourbon Street, for all its karaoke insanity, once again has a visit-worthy music venue for jazz; Tipitina’s Uptown has been booking some of the best bands in the city; and the white-hot Frenchmen Street scene is drawing in world travelers with its new music row.

Just walk down the center of Frenchmen, and you’ll be able to pick which venue appeals to you — if you can hear it through the brass bands that play up and down Frenchmen for tips. In fact, Frenchmen Street has become such a popular music scene, it can be borderline overrun on holidays and weekends. But if you catch a matinee or weeknight show at the Blue NileThe Spotted Cat Music Clubd.b.a. or Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, you’ll hear stellar music with room to dance.

New Orleans native Micah McKee and his backing band Little Maker hold down a weekly Thursday night at the Blue Nile with chops strong enough to be at home in any international music city. Snug Harbor charges the highest cover on Frenchmen Street, but that allows them to book some of the city’s top jazz bands. (Pro tip: If you happen upon a club with no cover, be sure to bring cash to tip the band, because that’s often the most crucial part of their livelihood.)

Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, a plush venue on Bourbon Street, is such a hot spot that when the legendary Stevie Wonder was rained out at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, he turned up and jammed with Mayfield for two nights to make it up to disappointed Jazz Fest fans. And one street over, catch an inspiring range of busker bands playing up and down Royal Street. (But again, be sure to bring cash, since they work entirely for tips.)

If jangle is your jam, New Orleans roots rockers often hold residencies at bar and grill Chickie Wah Wah on Canal Street. There, you’ll likely catch music from Twangorama, an all-guitar collective, or indie band Alexis and the Samurai, who appeared on NBC’s The Voice.

For a high-end evening out, The Orpheum Theater is a newly resurrected Beaux Arts theater in the Central Business District of downtown New Orleans, and the legendary music house has hosted acts that range in style from Kirk Franklin to Kraftwerk.

The best known music stop in New Orleans, Tipitina’s Uptown in the Garden District, is so ubiquitous that CNN hosted its New Year’s Eve ball drop there in 2016 while a brass band jammed and New Orleans music legend Dr. John stepped onto the stage for the countdown. It’s the type of place where, almost every night, some of the world’s best live music continues to flow.