Music is such an integral part of the culture in New Orleans, and we’ve got music clubs and bars by the dozens to satisfy your needs for a fun night out on the town. But while you’re on your way to go out, you might just find the party has already started in the street. New Orleans has no shortage of street musicians, and if you happen to stumble upon a few, take a couple of minutes to relax and enjoy one of the great pleasures of being in New Orleans: live music bursting forth practically wherever you go. When they pass the hat, don’t forget to show some love (a couple of bucks) right back at them, or buy a CD directly from an artist that you particularly enjoy. Be sure to ask if they’re performing elsewhere around town at a club or bar. Here are our top five spots to find street musicians in New Orleans.
1. Royal Street
It’s practically a music lover’s buffet on Royal Street in the French Quarter. Daytime and evenings you’ll find more than a few groups of musicians performing, in addition to the living statues, poets-for-hire, and other buskers that help keep New Orleans funky and endlessly entertaining. From Canal Street, as you saunter down Royal Street, beginning in the 200 block you might find a four-part harmony a capella group serenading you to classic R&B hits like “Under the Boardwalk” and “My Girl” in front of Mr. B’s Bistro. Walk just a block further into the Quarter, and you’ll likely hear the strumming of a solo blues guitarist. With so many pedestrians, and vehicular traffic blocked off often, the most regular assortment and heaviest concentration of street musicians play daily in the 300-800 blocks of Royal. You can find musicians beginning just before lunchtime and ending after the sun goes down any day of the week.
In front of the police station at the corner of Royal & Conti Streets, you can usually find larger ensembles of musicians — usually gypsy jazz or traditional jazz.
I’ve even heard a raucous and fun calypso band. Sometimes the bands play on the next block down into the Quarter (400 block of Royal) in front of the Supreme Court building.
Be on the lookout for Tanya & Dorise, who play year round on Royal Street, often on the 500 block. Their soulful, instrumental guitar/violin duets are big crowd-pleasers, and I can’t help but stop and appreciate their energetic musicianship and beautiful musical arrangements every time I walk past them.
At the corner of Royal & St. Peter, just off Jackson Square in front of the Rouse’s grocery, groups vie to play at that storied corner. One my favorite regular performers at that corner is Buku Broux, a world fusion jazz ensemble featuring the unmistakable sights and sounds of Jonah Tobias on the very large electric bass kora (from Mali).
Walk one block further and you’ll encounter duos and trios in front of the Rodrigue Gallery as you shop for art. Continue walking down Royal and you might hear the sounds of opera during the daytime at the corner of St. Ann Street, and folk or bluegrass bands in front of the courtyard at Cafe Amelie.
2. Frenchmen Street
This legendary stretch of street in the Marigny has over a dozen venues with live music indoors and a bustling nighttime art market, but nightly you can find brass bands as the sun goes down at the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres, most often the Young Fellaz Brass Band. Enjoy a birds-eye view from the balcony and a brew or a cocktail and a hot dog at the new Dat Dog at that same corner while you listen and take in some prime people-watching.
3. Jackson Square
On either side of St. Louis Cathedral in front of the Presbytere and the Cabildo, you’ll often find a brass band or two playing more traditional jazz, or a violinist serenading, or at night sometimes just a lone saxophone player. Daytime is the best time to catch the bigger bands on the Square. Grab some beignets and cafe au lait to go from Cafe du Monde and join the parade of humanity at one of the best free shows in town.
4. The Mississippi River
On your way to to the river, you’ll hear a brass band on the steps of Jax Brewery on Decatur at the corner of tiny (one-block-long) Wilkinson Street. Once at the river. you might encounter a trumpeter for hire, or hear a clarinetist or flutist practicing along the river at Woldenberg Riverfront Park. And if that isn’t enough, take a lunch-time, afternoon or dinner-time excursion on a riverboat like the Steamer Natchez and enjoy some live trad. jazz while riding up and down the Mississippi River.
5. Around Every Quarter Corner
Don’t be surprised if on a pretty weekend afternoon you turn a corner in the French Quarter and encounter a brass band leading a second line down the street. It’s part of what we do in New Orleans, not only at funerals, but more often than not in the Quarter accompanying wedding parties to their receptions. Join in the second line, dance and sing for a song or two , and wish the happy couple well on their life journey!
All photos by Paul Broussard