New Orleans is a rusted, wrought iron fence with a string of plastic beads hanging from the frame. It’s a pastel, plantation-style home next to a flickering neon bar sign. It’s a city in which a young jazz musician on the street corner plays his heart out next to a homeless man trying to find warmth in a staunch wooden bench, illustrating its blend of dreamers and vagabonds.
Perhaps the most intimately apparent piece of New Orleans’ culture is the love for music, which is why over 400,000 fans flock to the city for the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. This year Jazz Fest runs from April 22 to May 1.
During this time, concerts pop up all over the city, but other than that, much remains the same; renowned and novice musicians fill the bars and streets of The Big Easy. Notes of brass and string ring rhythmically into the atmosphere, letting the melodies resonate across the city’s grid.
If you’re visiting NOLA for Jazz Fest, pop into these five music venues in between concerts for a glimpse into the true culture that gives New Orleans a music-fueled atmosphere year-round.
1. The Carousel Bar
Photo courtesy of Hotel Monteleone
Hidden inside the French Quarter’s Hotel Monteleone, The Carousel Bar spins lazily for it’s lighthearted patrons. Customers dine on wooden chairs, each depicting a painted menagerie of circus animals, under the ever-turning lights of the carousel. Newly expanded and redesigned, guests are now met with a view of the sites, sounds, and heightened energy of The French Quarter. Artists perform everything from jazz to swing to big band music on the dimly lit stage of The Carousel Bar, in the hopes of attracting a career on a more substantial platform. It is not uncommon to find New Orleans locals amongst the twinkling lights of the carousel, drinking the famed Vieux Carre cocktail, and taking in the best local music the impassioned crescent city has to offer.
Photo courtesy of Tipitina’s Bar
Complete with a rustic, gritty bar atmosphere, Tipitina’s gives guests a chance to see big-time stars in a low-lit, neighborhood bar setting. The two-story building is a faded, pale yellow on the corner of a picturesque New Orleans street, giving way to an atmosphere that is comforting for patrons and musicians, alike. Known for hosting beginner performers on their way to stardom, Tipitina’s frequently hosts well-known players as they take a step back to their roots and grace a smaller stage. Tipitina’s is legendary among New Orleans’ locals, as the seedy atmosphere is home for renowned funk and big band artists, and unique because it doubles as a recording studio.
3. The Bombay Club and Martini Bar
Upbeat and sophisticated, New Orleans’ Bombay Club and Martini Bar gives patrons the feeling that they’ve walked into a high-class, 1920s setting, thanks to leather-backed chairs, wooden framework, and a private dining area behind a thick velvet curtain. Set on a rotating night-by-night ritual, jazz performers, pianists, swing-style artists and more take their talents to the piano’s worn, ivory keys and deliver performances rooted in classic jazz and undeniable skill.
4. Lafayette Square Park
A polestar for festivals in New Orleans, Lafayette Square Park hosts thousands of festivals each year, ranging in genre from blues and jazz to brass and Cajun. An open space where local vendors blend their spicy, Cajun style with the palpable upbeat essence of New Orleans music, Lafayette Square Park is set against the backdrop of multicolored town homes, grandiose murals on crumbling buildings, balconies littered with patrons, and beads strewn over baroque-style architecture. Taste the spices of local recipes, sit on the vast green lawns of Lafayette Square Park and take in the artistic atmosphere.
5. Old Opera House
Seedy and set in the heart of New Orleans’ famed Bourbon Street, Old Opera House’s atmosphere is littered with the ghosts of performers past. A-list acts who have long-since gone on to bigger venues and upcoming young artists, alike, call the little stage home. The neon bar sign of the Old Opera House depicts an alligator playing a guitar, paying tribute to New Orleans’ Cajun culture and the historic importance of music in the famed city. Set against a pale pink concrete structure with large open windows, the impassioned music within the walls of the Old Opera House leaks into the streets, drawing in patrons seeking the lively New Orleans nightlife.
Jena Stephens is the PR and Box Office manager for famed Decatur music venue, Eddie’s Attic. In her free time, she writes for various blogs and publications, including SororityLyfe.com and Paste Magazine.