Austin may tout itself as the live music capital of the world and Nashville may call itself “Music City,” but New Orleans holds its own when it comes to fantastic live music. Local and regional musicians taking to stages every night offer an array of styles, sounds and good times. Bourbon Street and its hipper counterpart Frenchmen Street have become well-known music hubs, but New Orleans boasts many other great venues in the Quarter and beyond. Next time you’re in town, venture off the beaten path and into the arms of these welcoming music venues to hear the most authentic New Orleans-style music.
Gasa Gasa (pictured above) doesn’t limit itself to one musical style, but it does showcase more contemporary bands and artists. The exterior’s eye-catching mural reflects the venue’s youthful, vibrant neighborhood on blossoming Freret Street. Inside is a cozy space with a retro feel replete with a distinct geometric backdrop behind the stage, and a killer sound system. Even though the venue’s on the smaller side, music still packs a punch here.
House of Blues may be known for booking major acts, but it’s their Voodoo Garden in New Orleans that provides the best access to local talent. This courtyard space regularly books up-and-coming local and regional bands, so audiences can enjoy new sounds in an outdoor setting. The best part is getting there; venture down an alley and through an entryway hanging with beads, skeletons and other kitschy New Orleans décor.
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A dive bar for the music lover, Circle Bar is not only located off Lee Circle but its main room is a circle. There are a few booths by the entrance, but the real action happens in the circular room, painted red to lend a warm ambiance to the small space that hosts indie bands. Worn down bricks and deteriorating plaster behind the bar make this feel like an authentic New Orleans spot both inside and out.
Like many a New Orleans bar, Hi Ho Lounge comes in all shades of red to represent it’s bold hometown. The red also brings out Hi Ho’s bohemian-mixed-with-burlesque theme. Mirroring its interior, the venue’s red brick facade sets it apart from other buildings on St. Claude Ave. Hi Ho Lounge has a neighborhood feel, and they regularly book a range of musical styles like bluegrass, funk, indie rock and jazz.
Not only is Dos Jefes a great spot to hear jazz in all its incarnations, but it also doubles as a cigar bar. Situated near Tchoupitoulas Street’s end, its nondescript exterior belies the character inside. Wood paneling, picture-lined walls, plush couches and of course the warm glow of a cigar case make a night at Dos Jefes one of a kind. While the music plays, try one of the bar’s many tequilas or whiskeys.
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Maple Leaf Bar continues to make “best of” lists for a reason. This Uptown gem sits fittingly on Oak Street, and is a happening spot known for late night shows. Through the entrance and past the bar on the left is the main room. The stage, which is the focus of the room with its trademark red lighting, has attracted acts like Bruce Springsteen and James Booker.
If drinking under the trees sounds appealing then head to Bacchanal. The green double doors on the corner of Poland and Chartres open into a cozy wine and cheese store. After purchasing a bottle, head out to the backyard where tables are plenty and live music echoes. With romantic outdoor lights hanging from trees, Bacchanal provides a lovely setting for a date or a night out with friends.
Providing a stage for bigger acts, One Eyed Jacks is a raucous club near the Quarter’s east end. Thanks to carnivalesque decor in deep reds and black focused around the ne’er do well Jack of Hearts, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve wandered through the looking glass. In addition to music, the club often features burlesque shows, which help create its overall decadent vibe.
Chickie Wah Wah has grown to become a New Orleans staple thanks to its varied but New Orleans-focused musical selection and its characteristic stage. When the show starts, the space is lit up by the stage, the glowing beer cooler behind the bar, and red overhead mood lighting. Between their outdoor patio and their indoor entertainment, this is one venue not to be missed.
What’s better than sipping Sazeracs on a porch beneath the sweeping oaks of St. Charles Avenue? The city’s and the region’s finest musicians perform early sets (usually 8 p.m.-11 p.m.) every night of the week at the Columns Hotel, a serene place to unwind with a cocktail in hand. If it’s too late to roam home, book a room.
is a writer specializing in music, culture and comedy. She lived in Louisiana for five years, and can often be found sipping bourbon and listening to all the good sounds pouring out of New Orleans.