The other New Orleans soundtrack
New Orleansâ voice and beat manifest in a staggeringly diverse set of musical genres. (Lou Jones/LPI)
While some tourists worry that the “real” New Orleans music-scene is made up of only never-ending jazz venues, in reality, the musical city’s voice and beat manifest in a staggeringly diverse set of genres. Indeed, New Orleans would not be the birthplace of jazz if it had not blended the other musical traditions that already had deep roots here.
Many people seem to think that jazz is moody music played with brass instruments. But in New Orleans, “brass” is a genre in and of itself, a rocking, danceable sound that is definitely not what you listen to while reading Albert Camus in a coffee shop. New Orleans brass is dynamic; older bands may sound like the Dixieland-style Big Band orchestras from the early 20th Century, while younger bands frequently blend in hip hop and R&B.
Check out the Soul Rebels at Les Bons Temps Roule (4801 Magazine Street; 504-895-8117) on Thursday nights, and Rebirth brass band at the Maple Leaf on Tuesdays, to have all your preconceptions about brass music blown out of the water. Both of these bars are relatively near Tulane University, in leafy, lovely neighbourhoods. Other venues in this area include Neutral Ground, a coffee shop that doubles as a singer-songwriter stage, and Carrollton Station, a bar that features similar sounds plus plenty of college rock.
In downtown New Orleans, near the city’s emerging arts and warehouse district, seeing a band at the Circle Bar (1032 St Charles Avenue; 504-588-2616) is like watching a show played in your living room. But because it is so small, the Circle regularly books singer-songwriters and indie talent that the bigger clubs pass up. Chickie Wah Wah, near the Mid-City neighbourhood, offers a similar-sized venue and similar line-up of independent talent that is much beloved by local music connoisseurs.
If you intend to stay in the French Quarter, check out One-Eyed Jacks, consistently one of the best rock music venues in the American South. Local and international talent regularly take the stage, and it also hosts a fantastic regular burlesque revue. Walk 10 minutes from Bourbon Street towards Frenchmen Street (arguably the best place in the world to listen to jazz music) and you will find the Dragon’s Den, which usually looks (and sounds) like the set of a Metallica video. The Den always has a crazy line-up, and regularly hosts all styles of metal and dubstep nights. Just across the street is Maison, where the jazz line up is supplemented by plenty of local dance DJs and indie rock talent. Nearby, d.b.a serves up some of the most diverse musical offerings in town and has a great beer menu to boot.
Head north of here to St Claude Avenue in the Bywater neighbourhood, an emerging part of town where artists have been drawn by cheap rent. The Bywater is packed full of music venues: the Saturn Bar (3067 St Claude Avenue; 504-949-7532) regularly hosts punk shows; the Hi Ho lounge (2239 St Claude Avenue; 504-945-4446) has Monday bluegrass jam sessions and bluegrass, folk, country and rock concerts throughout the week; and at BJs (4301 Burgundy; 504-945-9256) you can catch the blues-y rock tunes of King James and the Special Men on Monday nights. Just around the corner is Vaughan’s (4229 Dauphine Street; 504-947-5562), where local legend Kermit Ruffins tears up some trumpet-funk-brass fusion sounds on Thursday nights.
For a unique New Orleans evening, head to Club Fusion on AP Tureaud Avenue to hear bounce – a New Orleans-born style of dance music that mixes hip-hop, call-and-response and a high dose of synchronized dancing.
Do not forget large venues like Tipitina’s (go to the Uptown location, not the more touristy version in the French Quarter), a New Orleans classic hotspot, and of course, the Rock ‘N’ Bowl, where you can get in some time on the lanes before catching regular zydeco shows, rock, rap and yes, jazz – because seriously, do not come to New Orleans without hearing some jazz.