New Orleans Music Scene: Where to Find the Best Beats in the Big Easy

Hundreds, if not thousands of musicians, from Louis Armstrong to Louie Prima have passed through the New Orleans music scene over the years, and there isn't another city in the country whose jazz heritage is as rich and vibrant. It's easy to think of jazz as a staid and mouldering tradition – it's certainly not a huge part of mainstream music consciousness anymore – but New Orleans' traditional jazz foundations mix with blues, hip-hop and indie rock in exciting and inventive ways that prove that jazz is not only alive and kicking, but finding a comfortable place amid its genre peers in the Crescent City.

The Festivals

The biggest single way to experience New Orleans music is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (or just "Jazz Fest," to the regulars), which runs on two weekends from April 29 to May 1 and May 5 to May 8 this year and features acts as disparate as Dr. John and the Arcade Fire to Mystikal and Sonny Rollins. Discount tickets are still available at the super-cheap $40 per day rate – a steal considering the sheer number of performing acts – whose number and eclectic nature assure that you'll find something you know and love, and likely a few surprises, too.

Of course, Jazz Fest is just a taste of what New Orleans' music scene has to offer, knocking together local and national acts from a multitude of genres. On the smaller scale, there's Foburg Fest on Frenchmen St., a more indie rock and local blues/jazz jamboree that runs from March 11 to 13 as a functional warm-up to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas (and features many of the same bands).

The Scene

The concept of non-festival time in the Crescent City is almost a misnomer, as it can seem like there's always some sort of big or small celebration taking place somewhere. But the because New Orleans music is as much a part of the culture as its food or architecture, there are dozens of acts playing from night to night. For a few night-specific must-see outings, try the Soul Rebels Brass Band on Thursday nights at Le Bon Temps Roule for a shot of rootsy New Orleans soul magic, ragtime-y rocker Luke Winslow-King at The Spotted Cat on Magazine St. Saturday afternoons, and Maison on Frenchman St. on Mondays for their weekly jazz-rock-indie jam.

Those three are just a taste of the diverse musical patois New Orleans rewards music lovers and nighthawks. Check out Offbeat Magazine for the daily rundown on mainstream jazz, blues, rock 'n roll fare and local favorites, and pick up (if you're in the the city) or download Antigravity Magazine for the more indie, outsider, and lesser-known acts. The above are great starting points, but as a wise man once said, "you can't know until you go." So get going!

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