New Orleans: Live Music Capital of the World

Photo courtesy of Maxwell Rasche/This is NOLA.
Photo courtesy of New Orleans CVB
By Beth D'Addono, New Orleans Local Expert

The power of live music to make people happy is on full display at every single New Orleans night club. If listening to bands and vocalists show off their skills is how you like to spend an evening, you'll find that New Orleans does things right. Multiple options let you tap into the classic venues like Preservation Hall, or you can get a taste of the city's offerings by visiting places like One Eyed Jacks, which is known for its eclectic music offerings. While many venues on the local music scene are clustered in the French Quarter area,  terrific places to hear live music can be found throughout New Orleans neighborhoods. Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans is a must see to catch street music and a diverse line up of clubs. On any night of the week, within a two-block stretch, you can second line down the street with a brass band, catch a reggae groove at Cafe Negril and swing dance at the Spotted Cat. Just across the street, get down with rootsy rock and brass (Anders Osborne, Treme Brass Band) at d.b.a. and at the corner, grunge out at Check Point Charlie's, a serious rock and roll dive where - BONUS you can also do your laundry.

10. Banks Street Bar & Grill

Rub elbows with the natives at this diminuitive joint, where funk, blues and rock bands showcase regional talent every night. For a real good deal, come on Monday for free red beans and rice or hit the complimentary oyster bar at 10pm on Thursdays. Every Sunday is spaghetti Western night, with complimentary Italian eats, classic Italian westerns on the tube and live music by the likes of Ron Hotstream & The F-Holes - don't let the name fool you, these guys are pure country. There's no better way to dig into the local scene and you won't ever have to pay a cover.

9. Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro

You have two options at Snug Harbor, the jazz institution on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny. Sit at the bar and eat - the steaks and burgers are excellent -and watch and list to whoever is performing upstairs on live TV. Or pay the cover charge (it's always worth it) and head upstairs to the intimate little club called the "classiest jazz club in New Orleans" by The New York Times. Snug, which was frequently mentioned in reverential terms on the HBO series Treme, attracts a crowd of avid listeners, so if you ignore the band and chatter, expect to get shushed.

8. Rock 'N' Bowl

Live music and bowling? The combination works perfectly for New Orleans' Mid-City Lanes Rock'n'Bowl, the hippest, most happening bowling alley you'll ever see. Music in the styles of zydeco, R&B, swing, jazz and blues rises over the clamor of rolling balls and falling pins. Be sure to check out the city mural by local artist Tony Green, and don't miss Zydeco night every Thursday. An institution since 1993, Rock'n'Bowl changed locations in 2005, taking over a former A&P across from Ye Olde College Inn. Locals still miss the original, but the spirit of Rock'n'Bowl remains the same. Great food and beer on tap.

7. Preservation Hall
Photo courtesy of Infrogmation of New Orleans

Located in the heart of the French Quarter, Preservation Hall has been providing some of the best traditional New Orleans jazz since 1961. The smoke-free "Hall" is actually a tiny space with simple bench and floor seating, so if you want to get in and have a place to sit, get there early. This is one of the few venues in town that is open to all ages, a plus for families traveling with kids. Operating as a music venue, a touring band, and a non-profit organization, Preservation Hall presents intimate, acoustic New Orleans Jazz concerts some 350 nights a year featuring ensembles drawing from more than 100 local master practitioners. There is no food or drink allowed in the hall and crowds are usually standing room only. Set times are 35 minutes with 10 minute breaks in between.

6. Joy Theater
Photo courtesy of Maxwell Rasche/This is NOLA.

The Joy is an intimate jewel box venue with great views of the stage anywhere in the house. The restored theater hosts national acts like The Meter Men - featuring George Porter, Jr., with Page McConnell of Phis, comedy, film - an eclectic array of entertainment. Look for This is Nola to kick off again in May. Designed to showcase rising local art and music talent, the free party incorporates food, drink, film, dance, visual art and music. Bands like Hurray for the Riff Raff and Tank and the Bangas keep company with local films, art installations, craft cocktails by various bartenders and for eats, local chefs park food trucks along Canal Street.

5. Tipitina's

A hotbed of New Orleans' live music, the original "Tip's" is Uptown, rocking out bebeneath oak trees along the Mississippi River. Tip's helped launch the careers of such artists as the Neville Brothers, Harry Connick Jr., Dr. John and the subdudes. Filling out the performance schedule are major rock 'n' roll acts, emerging local groups of all genres and regional Cajun, zydeco, blues and R&B performers. Clubs come and they go, but there's no place like the original Tip's. Most Sundays you'll find a Cajun jam onstage. Get a shirt, the banana logo will be the envy of all your friends.

4. The Spotted Cat
Photo courtesy of New Orleans CVB

While local musicians entertain, patrons chill on comfy couches and sip cocktails at this popular Marigny lounge. The relaxed setting appeals to a mature clientele, and music ranges from New Orleans jazz to swing to klezmer and blues. Early shows appeal to an older crowd, and there's usually no cover, just a one-drink minimum. Although food isn't served there are plenty of places on Frenchmen to nibble if you feel the need. The club recently expanded, offering more elbow room, although finding a seat is still tricky. Spotted Cat was featured frequently on the HBO show Treme, and you might hear The Davis Rogan Band perform - Rogan is the real-life person that the DJ character of Davis was based.

3. d.b.a.
Photo courtesy of

High ceilings, rich brown paneling, and a long, sleek bar adorn this attractive space, housed in an old Marigny building. The bar menu is extensive and the assortment of single malt whiskey will delight even the most discriminating connoisseur. A TV, pool table and pinball machine keep everyone entertained, and a hot lineup of live blues and jazz bands performs nightly. With a massive rotating selection of draft beers on tap and plenty more in the bottles, this Faugbourg Marigny club is a popular haunt with beer drinkers. Cover charges are kept to a minimum for later shows, making this a great place to duck in for a good time.

2. Maple Leaf
Photo courtesy of Rebirth Brass Band

Pressed tin walls and a narrow dance floor are part of the charm of the Maple Leaf. Live bands play genres like straight ahead jazz, Zydeco, rock, blues and funk showcasing the city's best talent. Unannounced sit-ins are not uncommon; Bruce Springsteen once dropped in to jam with The Iguanas and Jon Cleary's band was once joined by his frequent employer, Bonnie Raitt. Because the club is close to both Loyola and Tulane Universities, the Maple Leaf attracts a diverse crowd that includes college students, professors, tourists and hard-core music aficionados. The venue is also one of New Orleans' premier Spoken Word locations. The club has been hosting a Sunday afternoon poetry series for two decades and poets take the mike at 3pm. Call ahead for listings and cover charges.

1. One Eyed Jacks
Photo courtesy of SanFranAnnie

It's hard to beat the artsy vibe at this indie club. The music offerings are eclectic indeed, with a given week seeing the likes of a glamrock 80s hair band, a nationally touring singer songwriter, burlesque performance art and a film festival. Atmospheric red velvet curtains, gold accents and glitzy chandeliers adorn the interior - think haunted 1920s movie theater and you're getting the drift. The always-crowded front bar leads to the theater-style club in the back where the action takes place. One Eyed Jacks holds up to 400 guests, which makes it one of the most intimate places to catch a national act like The White Stripes.