10 years after Katrina, the beat goes on in the Crescent City
You can hear more live music on a weeknight in New Orleans than over the entire weekend in many cities. There are so many venues, in fact, that beloved local radio station WWOZ lists the clubs in alphabetical order every other hour, all day long. But too many people visit Bourbon Street — the raucous, ultra-touristy district of bars that never close, strip joints and so-called music clubs — and think they’ve seen (and heard) New Orleans. Don’t make this mistake. Venture outside the French Quarter for clubs filled with locals, many of which are cheap or free to enter. It breaks our heart to list just five, but here goes.
FRITZEL’S EUROPEAN JAZZ PUB
Yes, it has a Bourbon Street address — but this bar is a great spot to hear traditional jazz as you sit just a few feet (or inches) from the band at long wooden tables, surrounded by international flags and music posters. You’ll hear classics likes “St. James Infirmary Blues” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” by local virtuosos like jazz pianist Richard Scott, clarinetist Tim Laughlin and trumpeter Charlie Fardella. Nightly music, no cover.
ROCK ’N’ BOWL
Thursday is the night to hear zydeco, the irresistibly toe-tapping music of southwest Louisiana with French and Caribbean roots. It’s performed with an accordion, guitar, washboard and drums — lots of soul and rhythm — by top acts like Geno Delafose and Chubby Carrier. Luckily, there’s a big dance floor and bar, not to mention a bowling alley. Blues, swing and other music genres are performed Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Zydeco night has a $12 cover.
Regional bands play everything from blues, brass and gypsy jazz to Cajun, swing and swamp pop at this bar on music-club-lined Frenchmen Street in Faubourg Marigny, right next to the French Quarter. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear Delta gut-bucket blues guitarist and singer Little Freddie King, who’s played the Montreux and Montreal Jazz Festivals, for just $10. Big beer selection, including international brews and local favorite Abita, in a smoke-free setting. Limited seating. Nightly music, with free admission (for the early shows) or a cover of $10-$15.
Tipitina’s is a famous Uptown club where New Orleans bands like Dr. John, trumpeter Shamarr Allen, the Neville Brothers and 101 Runners (Mardi Gras Indian funk and chants, heavily percussive, utterly hypnotic) perform, as well as nationally known artists like Pearl Jam, Willie Nelson, Patti Smith and many others. The standing-room-only space is usually packed to the gills. Every Sunday, a Cajun fais-dodo dance is hosted by musician Bruce Daigrepont. In summer, free Friday concerts are offered. Nightly music with most covers ranging $10-$15, though admissions is higher for national bands.
New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
Free daytime jazz concerts — many include talks explaining the musical elements that shaped jazz, from gospel to blues, given by park rangers — take place at the park’s French Market visitor center in the French Quarter or in the nearby Old U.S. Mint’s concert hall. Ranger Bruce Barnes fronts his own band, Sunpie & the Louisiana Sunspots, and the singer/accordionist/harmonica player performs zydeco, blues, reggae and boogie-woogie — what he calls African diaspora music — around New Orleans. Walking tours of jazz history with audio narration are also free, and include stops at statues of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, plus Congo Square in Armstrong Park, where slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries were allowed to engage in African drumming, dancing and music. Pick up a brochure at the visitors’ center, where jazz CDs and books are also sold.
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