5 music venues capture the character of New Orleans

Music fans who circle the globe to see arena bands and attend massive festivals know New Orleans. The Jazz & Heritage Festival is as good as any Palooza out there, and the sports arenas draw national acts year-round. But in New Orleans, you are more likely to experience the authentic sounds of this singular city in historic theaters and dive bars.

1. Civic Theatre

With two balconies, this little jewel box is taller than it is deep or wide. The monochromatic white interior (speakers, railings, and architectural elements all painted bright white) makes the venue feel like a living art exhibition. Even when the historic theater is packed, it is easy to roam around and watch indie darlings from different vantage points. Its location just outside the French Quarter in the quiet-after-dark Central Business District requires a decision after the show: head back to the room and dream about the awesome band you just saw, or cross Canal Street and stay up late.

2. Tipitina’s

This neighborhood juke joint has hosted local bands and visiting artists for more than five decades. Take the St. Charles streetcar uptown and grab dinner and drinks along Magazine Street before the show, but don’t linger. This popular venue fills up fast and you might end up joining the Cajun dance party that forms outside. Best bet is to have tickets in hand and arrive early to get a spot upstairs, the perfect place to watch Trombone Shorty, Rebirth Brass Band, and other local legends.

3. Preservation Hall

Tourist bait? Yes. Totally worth it? Absolutely! This legendary music room is about as no-frills as it gets. No drinks, no food, no bathrooms, no climate control—just a few benches up front and standing room in back and along the sides. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a mash-up of different local musicians each night, plays hour-long acoustic shows that start and end on time. It’s a short and impactful peek at living history. If you don’t get in to the early show, stand in line for another hour and watch the Quarter come to life before this introduction to traditional New Orleans jazz.

4. One Eyed Jacks

This sultry little place has a devil-may-care attitude that fits right in with its French Quarter surroundings. Red velvet wallpaper and crystal chandeliers frame the tiny front bar, perfect for a drink before heading back to the standing-room-only concert hall. The former movie house and speakeasy reveals secrets every night, like outlaw country artists, naughty burlesque shows, and gay dance parties during Pride and Southern Decadence.

5. The Spotted Cat Music Club

Just across Esplanade on Frenchmen Street, the crowds in the Marigny thin out compared to the Quarter just a few blocks away. The laissez-faire inclination to have a good time, however, is just as evident—especially when you approach The Spotted Cat and it sounds like a parade is stepping off inside the building. Stumble upon Panorama Jazz Band to hear what a tuba, trombone, banjo, and accordion sound like together. After the show, sashay out of this snug little club and dream of becoming a juggler or a jewel thief.

Experience your own set list in New Orleans.

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