New Orleans' Coolest Live Music Venues
New Orleans may be a town that loves a good party, but more so, it's a town that loves a good jam session. Rhythm and music are a lifestyle in the Crescent City, where live jazz, brass bands, Creole and zydeco beats stream out of both the most fabled and divey music clubs in the city. Most hours of the day or night, 7 days a week, a keen ear will hear some of America's finest live music performances spilling out of bars and clubs onto the balmy streets, and for a small cover -- or sometimes, no fee at all -- travelers can be privy to a piece of music history.
Whether you choose to sit for a spell inside a cramped but storied music hall, soaking in the sounds of modern jazz, or kick up your dancin' feet during a rollicking brass band performance that's filtered from a bar onto the street, there's no shortage of places to hear New Orleans' best sounds -- now discover our 5 favorite NoLa venues.
Easily New Orleans' most storied mecca of live music, Tipitina's first opened in 1977, when a group of music aficionados, known as "The Fabulous Fo'teen" decided to form a juke joint to honor the famed Crescent City musician Professor Longhair. The Professor was considered one of the most revered rhythm and blues artists, and the Fo'teen hoped to establish a juke joint where he could play gigs during the final years of his life; they soon named the venue after one of his best-loved songs, "Tipitina."
Throughout its past and into its present, some of music's most legendary artists have graced Tipitina's stage, including the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Willie Nelson, Pearl Jam and Wilco. On the sidewalks in front of Tipitina's lies a Walk of Fame, honoring NoLa music legends past and present, like Irma Thomas, aka the “Soul Queen of New Orleans.” The venue also houses a renowned music recording studio. Try to visit on a Sunday evening during the weekly fais do-do, an event devoted to Cajun music and dance.
Pay no mind to the crashing of pins and the rumbling of bowling balls that fill the air at New Orleans' Rock 'n' Bowl on any given night. As the evening wears on, the ruckus will be overshadowed by the blasting music of rollicking live music acts that perform most nights of the week. Rock 'n' Bowl first opened as a music and bowling venue in 1988. It later survived the flooding of Hurricane Katrina, and eventually relocated in 2009 to a space just 12 blocks away from the original.
Rock 'n' Bowl's full bar and tasty bar fare like burgers and beignets serve as an added bonus to a joint with a fabulously fun vibe. Themed music nights, like Swing Wednesdays and Zydeco Thursdays are mainstays, and draw a mostly local crowd looking to boogie down on the dance floor and, sometimes, even the bowling lanes. If planning a night here, call ahead to reserve a lane; Rock 'n' Bowl draws a serious crowd most nights!
Entering Preservation Hall in New Orleans' French Quarter is, for steadfast jazz lovers, akin to reaching the holy grail. Situated in a tiny, ramshackle 18th-century building with no seats but for a few wooden benches, and no air-conditioning to speak of, Preservation Hall nonetheless never fails to awe the constant crowds who vie for space -- and a view of the musicians.
Opened in 1961 with a mission to "protect and honor" New Orleans' jazz tradition, today the venue also lays claim to a famed band, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a record label and a nonprofit educational program for young musicians to learn about jazz. Nightly live music includes 3 shows -- at 8:15 p.m., 9:15 p.m. and 10:15 p.m., though hopeful patrons start lining up outside Preservation Hall as early as 6 p.m. to guarantee entrance. Keep in mind, Preservation Hall does not serve food or beverages, though patrons may bring their own drinks in plastic containers.
Just outside the French Quarter lies a 2-block stretch of Frenchmen Street that pulses with the sounds of some of New Orleans' most epic jazz and music clubs. While you can throw a stone from here and hit an awesome venue, we suggest paying a visit to the Spotted Cat, one of the most venerable -- and admittedly, upscale -- joints on the block. Spotted Cat also has a cover-free bar where patrons can see and hear the music from speakers and television monitors.
Just across the street, Snug Harbor, offers patrons both a well-regarded restaurant and a snazzy modern jazz club featuring nightly live music performances. First, tuck into a tasty meal of broiled Gulf shrimp or a ribeye steak in the dining room, before heading into the 2-story music room, for one of the evening's 2 live shows. Pro tip: Tickets must be purchased to watch the show in the music room.
Tired of the jazz scene? Head uptown to the Maple Leaf to mix it up with funk, zydeco, blues and brass bands. Since 1974, The Leaf, as it's often called, has been hosting live music 7 nights a week, and was the first live music venue to reopen after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005.
The club regularly attracts local music legends like Rebirth Brass Band, Papa Grows Funk and Walter "Wolfman" Washington, and is even known to attract unexpected guest performances by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt. Needless to say, with lineups like these, the relatively small club gets packed, leading crowd to tumble out onto the sidewalk, creating a vibe and party nearly as fun as the one inside. Remember to wear your dancin' shoes -- a night at The Leaf is guaranteed to involve some serious grooving.