• Ellen Byron

New Orleans Means Music


For me, music is what you dance to. When I go to New Orleans' legendary JazzFest, I spend most of my time in the Cajun and Zydeco tents two-stepping away. But you can't blog about The Big Easy without writing about its fabulous and widely varied music scene, so I acknowledged my limits in this area and turned to mystery author and music maven, Sarah M. Chen for thoughts, tips, and favorite NOLA hot spots. And boy, did she deliver! Below is my Q&A with her. You might want to take notes of the non-musical variety.

Sarah, what do you love about the NOLA music scene?

The music is everywhere! Almost every bar has a live band, whether it’s jazz, blues, bluegrass, funk, rock, or reggae. There is music for every taste and it’s a city where you can walk down the street and stumble upon a marching band playing on the corner. That’s what I love, the spontaneity of it.

Talk about some of your favorite venues.

The Spotted Cat Music Club: This is a club that I’d heard Anderson Cooper loved and frequented every time he was in New Orleans. On my most recent trip, we checked it out and it quickly became one of my favorite places too. It was packed (it’s quite small), the people were friendly, and the band was fantastic. This is strictly a jazz club. They have 3 bands a night and there is no cover. They don’t serve food. This is on Frenchmen Street which is, in my opinion, the best area for live music. http://www.spottedcatmusicclub.com/

The Blue Nile: This is known to be the first music club on Frenchmen Street or at least put Frenchmen Street on the map for having amazing live music. They have everything: blues, soul, reggae, funk, brass bands, etc. It wasn’t crowded at all when we were there and there was no cover. We were lured inside by an incredible blues band. I’d never been before and I’d go back for sure. It’s fairly big and dark with blue lights that give it a “nightclubby” vibe. This is strictly a music venue and doesn’t serve food. http://bluenilelive.com/

Tipitina’s:This is a place where you must buy tickets in advance (although they do have free Friday concerts). More famous acts play here. I’ve been a few times to see the Radiators and the Funky Meters. It started as a tiny neighborhood music venue and has since expanded into a two-story nightclub. It was named for a song by Professor Longhair who used to play here. It’s the furthest music venue from the French Quarter on Tchoupitoulas Street in the Uptown district. This is probably the best known music venue in New Orleans, but it’s definitely a destination place, not a place to just stop in and check out. http://www.tipitinas.com/

Igor’s Checkpoint Charlie: This is a strange one: it’s a bar/music venue/restaurant/laundromat. It’s dirty, smelly, cheap, and the dive bar of dive bars – think of it as your favorite college hangout. They have great burgers. The music is mostly rock and it’s loud. It’s a local hangout and can get really crowded. It’s open 24 hours and on Esplanade, right on the border of the Faubourg Marigny district. This is the place you stumble to on the way home from a long night and that’s about it. May be worth just taking a peek inside.

Buffa’s Bar & Restaurant: This is a dive also but has a wonderful down-home Sunday jazz brunch (not gospel brunch). It has tasty biscuits and gravy and strong Bloody Marys. When we were there, a Dixieland jazz band played. Everyone was really friendly and it has a wonderful spirited atmosphere. It’s in the Faubourg Marigny district and is open 24 hours. We had no problem walking right in and sitting down on a Sunday morning but that was off season in January. http://www.buffasbar.com/

What advice you have for visitors who want to experience NOLA’s music scene?

I found that Frenchmen Street is the best for experiencing all kinds of different music. It's in the Faubourg Marigny district, where most of my favorite music venues are. It’s slightly outside of the French Quarter (but still walking distance). It’s perfect for those who don’t want the craziness of the French Quarter and just want to hear good music.

Anything visitors should know from a safety standpoint?

I would never walk around New Orleans by myself late at night. Nobody, male or female, should. If you do find yourself alone for whatever reason, try to get to the French Quarter because at least i'ts usually busy with tourists at all hours of the night. Anywhere outside of the Quarter is sketchy. You can enter a very dangerous area just by crossing the street. I'd err on the side of caution and not travel solo.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

New Orleans is such a vibrant fun city with music everywhere. The best thing to do is just wander around and if you hear music you like, go inside and check it out. I bet you’ll find your favorite venue this way.

Thank you, Sarah! And now, back to me. If you share my affection for Cajun and zydeco music, check out Tropical Isle Club for the former, and Krazy Korner for the latter. Both are located on Bourbon Street, so they tend to attract tourists, but if you hit them on the right night, you'll enjoy some great local music.

Readers, do you have any favorite places to go for music in New Orleans? If so, share with the rest of us!

BIO: Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. Her crime fiction short stories have been accepted for publication online and in various anthologies, including All Due Respect, Plan B, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Betty Fedora, and, Dead Guns Press. Cleaning Up Finn is her first book and it’s available now with All Due Respect Books. www.sarahmchen.com


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