The Best Places to Hear Live Music in New Orleans
The Best Places to Hear Live Music in New Orleans
Have you been searching for the best places to hear live music in New Orleans? Book NOLA has got you covered.
While the Big Easy is famous as the birthplace of jazz, you can hear nearly any type of music that strikes your fancy any day of the week in New Orleans. There are so many places to see live performers besides Bourbon Street. Read on to find out about NOLA’s hottest music venues, organized by neighborhood.
The French Quarter
Once a locals-only music strip, Frenchmen Street hosts some of the best live bands in New Orleans. The street is the most convenient place in town to go bar-hopping while enjoying a wide variety of musical acts. If you have limited time in NOLA, forget Bourbon Street, and head straight to Frenchmen.
Frenchmen Street’s first music venue, the Blue Nile, features a huge interior with upstairs and downstairs stages. The venue hosts regular gigs from celebrated local acts like Kermit Ruffins, Washboard Chaz, and Big Sam’s Funky Nation.
Snug Harbor is a sit-down club for modern jazz, featuring acts like Charmaine Neville, Stanton Moore, and members of the famous Marsalis clan. During Jazz Fest, Snug Harbor is often the venue for New Orleans’ legendary Piano Night.
The club presents two shows each evening, and you’ll need to buy tickets in advance. However, the bar, restaurant, and stage are located in separate rooms, so you can pass by for a drink or a bite to eat. Menu items include expertly prepared local entrees, such as seafood gumbo, oyster platters, and shrimp remoulade. Although Snug Harbor has no official dress code, the bar makes a fantastic place to show off your finest.
Located at the Faubourg Marigny end of Frenchman Street, the Spotted Cat features traditional jazz acts like the Cottonmouth Kings, Miss Sophie Lee, and the New Orleans Jazz Vipers. The venue is popular with swing dancers who often show off their moves on the street outside the club.
The Spotted Cat hosts several bands each day from 2 pm to 2 am. Get there early because the bar is standing-room-only and tends to get crowded fast. Although they don’t charge a cover, the venue requires a one-drink minimum per set and only accepts cash.
One of the best places to pass a good time on Frenchmen Street, d.b.a. presents an eclectic blend of acts, including the Soul Rebels, bluesmaster Walter “Wolfman” Washington, and the unforgettable Glen David Andrews.
The d.b.a. dance floor is ideally suited for getting your groove on, and the bar features an incredible selection of craft beers, ciders, whiskeys, and sparkling wines. The venue charges a cover on weekends and during peak seasons like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.
The Maison showcases live music every day on three stages, featuring everything from rock and soul to blues and hip-hop. The club also hosts weekly funk and jazz jam sessions, and you never know who might show up. You can also entertain yourself playing pool or air hockey and sample from their dizzying array of craft cocktails and local dishes.
You’ll find everything from jazz and blues to rock and reggae bands at Jamaican-inspired Cafe Negril. The back bar serves up delicious, generously portioned tacos, which customers can enjoy at one of the tables outside on the banquette.
Located at the hipster-friendly Marigny end of Frenchmen, Three Muses makes the perfect place to combine dinner with live music in a relaxed atmosphere. Pianists like Tom McDermott, traditional acts like The Shotgun Jazz Band, and country singers like Gal Holiday take the stage from Thursdays through Sundays.
Food offerings include a wide selection of appetizers, local comfort food, and Asian-inspired cuisine. You can also indulge in one of their expertly-mixed specialty cocktails. Three Muses fills up quickly, so book your table in advance.
You never know what you’ll find at the Apple Barrel. Often overlooked by tourists, the little hole in the wall has such incredible acoustics that many local bands have recorded there. The Apple Barrel features some of the Crescent City’s most unusual acts and serves cheap beers and well drinks.
Heading toward the CBD, Frenchman Street turns into Decatur where you’ll find several top-notch venues to hear live music.
If you’re fixin’ to enjoy a pint of Guinness and listen to traditional Irish music, pass by the Kerry Irish Pub. The venue also presents bluegrass, country, and folk-rock acts, including local singer-songwriters like Patrick Cooper, Lynn Drury, and bouzouki player Beth Patterson. Kerry's offers plenty of drink specials and never charges a cover.
Although the House of Blues is a national chain, don’t rule it out. The venue has three separate stages, presenting talented local, national, and international musicians. Additionally, New Orleans’ version of the House of Blues holds a renowned Sunday Gospel Brunch, which includes an all-you-can-eat buffet and some of the best gospel music the city has to offer.
This outdoor venue makes one of the best places to hear traditional jazz during the daytime hours. So pull up a chair, order a chicory coffee, and soak in the vibes of “The City that Care Forgot.” The Market Cafe also serves truly noteworthy versions of local favorites, such as gumbo, muffuletta sandwiches, and jambalaya.
The Esplanade is a wide avenue on the edge of the French Quarter, where Decatur turns into Frenchmen Street.
Are you looking for a place where you can sip on a cold brew, listen to live music, and do your laundry at the same time? Then, head to Checkpoint Charlie on the corner of Esplanade and Frenchmen.
The bar/laundromat is open 24 hours and features nearly every type of music, including rock, country, blues, jazz, and punk. Wednesday night jam sessions with the inimitable T-Bone Stone and the Happy Monsters are particularly lively. On Sundays, singer-songwriters can show off their chops at the bar’s longstanding open mike, hosted by artist and musician Jim Smith.
Buffa’s features local piano and jazz vocal musicians, including singer Meschiya Lake, trumpet player Simon Burke, and the Doyle Cooper Trio. On Sundays, Buffa’s serves a traditional jazz brunch with music from Some Like It Hot.
Although tourists rarely frequent the establishment, Buffa’s ranks on Esquire Magazine’s Best Bars in America list. Locals flock to Buffa’s on game nights to root for the Saints, throw back a few beers, and nosh on some of the best bar food in New Orleans.
Unfortunately, first-time visitors often get sidetracked by touristy places with karaoke, pop, and classic rock cover bands when they visit Bourbon. But if you want to hear authentic jazz, here’s where to head on NOLA’s most famous street.
If you only have time to visit one place on Bourbon Street, make it Preservation Hall.
The venue presents three all-acoustic shows every night of the week in an 18th-century building with an interior that hasn’t changed in over 50 years. The hall doesn’t serve food or beverages, but you can bring your own drink in a plastic “Go Cup.”
A couple of dedicated music fans opened the hall in 1961 with a mission to preserve New Orleans’ jazz traditions. Preservation Hall is now a non-profit organization run by Ben Jaffe, the son of the original founders. Jaffe and other members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band travel the world to spread the message of traditional New Orleans music.
Touted as the oldest running jazz club in the city, Fritzel’s specializes in trad jazz and Django Rhinehart-inspired French gypsy music. Fritzel’s is a sit-down club, so you’ll want to reserve your spot in advance.
The oldest African American neighborhood in the United States, Treme was, and still is, the birthplace of NOLA’s most celebrated jazz musicians.
Kermit Ruffins acquired this long-standing watering hole after his success with the theme song for the hit series Treme, which dramatized life in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The Mother-in-Law features an outdoor stage in a funky courtyard where you can sit on old couches, picnic tables, and rocking chairs. Kermit and his friends play on Monday nights when he’s not touring. The early evening gig runs from 7-9:30. A $20 cover charge includes complimentary red beans and rice.
Although this neighborhood bar caters mainly to locals, the Candlelight is one of the best places to hear authentic New Orleans blues. In addition, starting at 5 pm on Monday nights, local DJs play, and the bar offers free seafood to accompany your drinks.
Bullet’s is home to some of New Orleans’ best R&B, funk, and brass bands, including Kermit Ruffins and the talented ladies of the Original Pinettes Brass Band. The music runs from 6-9 pm, so you can easily catch a later show somewhere else in the neighborhood.
The bar offers regular drink specials, and customers can buy delicious, economical fare from the food trucks parked outside. Bullet’s also makes an excellent spot to play pool, root for your favorite teams, and watch the latest boxing matches.
Named after a song by Huey “Piano” Smith, Chickie Wah Wah is a sit-down venue featuring mainly jazz and local singer-songwriters. The acoustically perfect venue sits along the streetcar line, serves an assortment of craft beers on tap, and has regular happy hours from Monday through Friday before the shows.
Where else but New Orleans can you knock over a few pins while dancing to live swing, zydeco, R&B, and brass band music? Although the Rock n’ Bowl moved from its historical location after Katrina, the vibe remains the same. Thursday Zydeco nights are particularly entertaining. The cover charge for an evening of bowling and dancing is around $25 per person.
Bank’s Street Bar and Grill is a laid-back neighborhood watering hole where you can get up close and personal with the musicians. The owners believe in the New Orleans “lagniappe” tradition, making the bar one of the best places to chow down on free local grub.
Bank’s Street Bar serves traditional red beans and rice on Mondays, free oysters on Thursdays at 10 pm, and the Major Bacon Band dishes out complimentary BLTs during their weekly shows. If you have envie for Italian food, you can pick up a delicious slice of pie from the pizzeria next door.
Catch the St. Charles Streetcar on Canal Street to head upriver to the Garden District and NOLA’s Uptown area.
If you’re looking for a place to boogie in the Uptown area, head straight to the Maple Leaf. The historic club, located on Oak Street in Uptown’s Riverbend neighborhood, dazzles visitors with its shotgun-style dance floor, festive decorations, and ornate pressed-tin ceiling that shimmers in the stage lights.
After its inauguration in 1974, the Maple Leaf soon became home to eccentric pianist James Booker, also known as the Bayou Maharishi. Today, the Maple Leaf hosts an eclectic mix of blues, funk, and R&B every night, featuring New Orleans legends like drummer Johnny Vidacovich, Meters bassist George Porter Junior, and renowned pianists Joe Crown, Jon Cleary, and John “Papa” Gros. But the big Gumbo Ya-Ya party is on Tuesday nights with the Rebirth Brass Band.
The Maple Leaf also holds regular free crawfish boils, but if you happen to miss the mudbugs, you can find incredible Creole food two doors down at Jacques-Imo’s Cafe, a restaurant that arguably serves some of the best fried chicken in New Orleans.
Let the good times roll at Le Bon Temps Roule, located at 4801 Magazine Street. The bar hosts an eclectic mix of live music styles and serves some of the tastiest authentic Mexican food in the city. Friday happy hours feature a complimentary fresh oyster bar.
Founded in 1977, Tipitina’s is one of the most famous music venues in New Orleans. A group known as the Fabulous Fourteen gathered the funds to buy the property to host legendary pianist Professor Longhair who wrote a song titled “Tipitina.”
Tipítina’s hosts some of the more celebrated local musicians, such as The Radiators, Trombone Shorty, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, and Tank and the Bangas, who were nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy in 2020. You can also catch national acts as diverse as Willie Nelson, Phish, Wilco, and the Blind Boys of Alabama.
“Tip’s” has its own Walk of Fame with sidewalk stars honoring local music legends like Dr. John, Irma Thomas, and James Booker. The venue also hosts a traditional Cajun “fais-do-do” dance party every Sunday.
Threatened in the aftermath of Katrina, Tipitina’s was bought by the band Galactic who performs there regularly. Tipitina’s also runs a nonprofit that gives free music workshops and donates instruments to low-income students.
Music lovers will find Tipitina’s on Napolean and Tchoupitoulas. (Say that name ten times fast!) You’ll need to buy tickets in advance for the most popular shows.
Frequented by local college students, Gasa Gasa specializes in Electronic, Indie, and New Wave music. The building boasts one of the most finely executed murals in NOLA, and the bar serves affordable happy hour craft cocktails and beers. Gasa Gasa also throws regular DJ parties with free boiled crawfish when they’re in season.
The Neutral Ground is an excellent place to take the whole family to see music since the cafe has no age restrictions. Originally named the Penny Post, the 40-year-old coffee house presents local indie acts and hosts a weekly open mike.
Bywater and St. Claude
Rarely visited by tourists before the hurricane, the Bywater/St. Claude area has become one of the hippest neighborhoods of the post-Katrina era.
The Hi-Ho lounge brings audiences a veritable gumbo of bluegrass, indie rock, hip-hop, funk, jazz, electronica, and jam music. The Hi-Ho also hosts burlesque shows and documentary film screenings. The bar offers daily food specials and holds happy hour between 6-7 pm every evening.
Historically, the divey Saturn Bar was home to New Orleans rock and punk bands. But since the St. Claude neighborhood has become so popular, the venue has expanded its repertoire to include just about every type of music you can imagine. The Saturn Bar is a no-frills beer drinking joint, but it's well worth visiting.
One of the most colorful venues in the St. Claude area, Carnaval Lounge highlights up-and-coming musicians and established local acts like cellist Helen Gillet, jazz trumpeter Leroy Jones, and the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus. The lounge is also a fantastic place to enjoy traditional Mexican food, including tacos, burritos, and Jalisco-style birria, a mouth-watering stew with goat meat. The bar opens at 5 pm, and the drink menu includes plenty of local microbrews and artisanal cocktails.
Bacchanal is one of the most entertaining places to enjoy a backyard party in the Bywater. You can buy a bottle of wine in the streetside store and enjoy it in their lovely outside seating area. Bacchanal’s Mediterranean-inspired cuisine makes the restaurant a favorite among the health-conscious hipster crowd. The bar hosts live music every day except Thursday. Reservations are recommended.
The 9th Ward
Established in 1959, Vaughan’s hosts some of New Orleans’ best live music every Thursday night. The price of admission includes a complimentary meal, featuring local homecooked recipes. The lineup includes acts as diverse as Corey Henry, Little Freddie King, and Quintron and Miss Pussycat.
CBD/ Warehouse District
Originally the “American” part of New Orleans, the CBD/Warehouse District lies on the opposite side of Canal Street from the French Quarter.
The Howlin’ Wolf is one of NOLA’s best clubs to hear more established local bands and national musical groups. Music lovers can also catch smaller acts and a weekly brass band party in the adjacent Den room.
The Howlin’ Wolf kitchen serves late-night munchies, including gator balls, pulled pork sandwiches, and po-boys dressed to perfection. You’ll need tickets for the big shows, but you can walk right into the Den for food, drinks, and local music.
On most days, Lafayette Square is simply a relaxing patch of greenery where office workers can take a break in NOLA’s busy CBD district. But on Wednesdays during the spring and summer, the square comes alive with its free concert series. Bring a lawn chair, a cooler, and your dancing shoes because hump day at Lafayette Square is where the party’s at.
Where to Find Live Music Schedules in New Orleans
Most New Orleans locals find out who’s playing where by listening to radio station WWOZ’s Livewire at the beginning of every odd hour. But if you happen to miss the Livewire, you’ll also find music schedules in several local publications. You can pick up your copy in many locations throughout the French Quarter.
With its glossy photos and in-depth artist interviews, Offbeat makes a fantastic souvenir of your trip to New Orleans.
This weekly publication covers local politics and culture in addition to its comprehensive listings of events taking place in the city.
Where Y’at covers the best of New Orleans dining and entertainment along with movie reviews.