Everyone loves a good list. This has become more evident than ever with recent year-end lists, the era of BuzzFeed, and short attention spans. So, seeing as it is the New Year, we’re kicking it off with a meme-less list of our own: 14 musical people and places visitors should experience in the year 2014. In no particular order, these are the local favorites, some leading lights, and also some lesser known gems that you shouldn’t miss when you come to see us this year.
New Orleans Music for 2014
1. Hurray for the Riff Raff – Aside from their superior name, which should make you curious to know more immediately, Hurray for the Riff Raff has steadily evolved over the past couple years, and especially the last few months after releasing their album “My Dearest Dark Neighbor” and signing to ATO Records in July 2013. Think alternative folk/country sounds, strummed from the start right here in New Orleans after singer Alynda Lee Segara moseyed down from the Bronx when she was 17 and settled here for good. Want the live action Riff Raff experience? Check out their album release party on February 14 at One Eyed Jack’s.
2. Siberia & Saint Claude Ave – When I moved to New Orleans, I stayed my first two years in the neighborhood called the Marigny. At that time, everyone in the Marigny knew what an amazing, artsy neighborhood it is. Since then, the word has gotten out to everyone else. As amazing as Frenchmen Street is, Saint Claude Avenue is home to the alternative New Orleans music scene, where bikes, tattoos and interpretive dancing in goth bunny masks are not eyebrow-raising things to see. For one of the most interesting, inexpensive nights out you can have, check out one of the area’s bare bones behemoths, Siberia, a fantastic dive bar with eclectic, excellent live music, and the best and cheapest Polish soul food in a 300 mile radius.
3. Major Music Fests – To fest (v): to celebrate with large crowds of people brought together by general thematic entertainment of the unmatchable, usually outside variety, plus the best eats in town. Need I say more? Well, I might as well give you one more nudge, I suppose: although we are known internationally for fests like Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest, don’t miss some of our smaller fests (“smaller” here meaning, still hundreds of people and international headliners) with their very distinct and quirky personalities, such as Voodoo Fest every Halloween weekend and the BUKU Music + Art Project in March, this year featuring such anticipated headliners as The Flaming Lips, David Guetta, Ellie Goulding and Chromeo, just to name a few.
4. New Generation Rockers – Nope, not the porch chair your granny sits on. We are the city that does jazz. We are the city that does funk. We are the city that does brass. We are the city that twerks—and I mean real twerking. And we are also a city full of new generations of talented youth infusing older generations of Creole and Cajun music in a brand of rock music all their own. For some samples, check out The Breton Sound, Sweet Crude, Big History, Revivalists, and Flow Tribe, then come here and experience these exciting New Orleans bands for yourself.
5. Congo Square – If rockers are part of the future of New Orleans, Congo Square has and continues to be an anchor to the heart of our past. Now part of Louis Armstrong Park, it sits just lakeside (“north”) of the French Quarter, and was an open area where slaves used to gather on Sundays to sing, sell homemade items, drum, dance, meet, and share fellowship with friends, family, and fellow slaves. Today we honor that legacy with a full schedule of cultural programming, markets, festivals, concerts, and cookouts, such as the Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival and the seasonal Jazz in the Park.
6. Frenchmen Street – Frenchmen Street is a living portfolio of legendary New Orleans icons: venues d.b.a., Spotted Cat, Snug Harbor, Maison, Blue Nile and newest favorite The Three Muses all have less than a $10 cover, perfect for a night, or every night, stroll to hear some of New Orleans’ best musicians in some of their favorite intimate settings.
7. One Eyed Jack’s – You know how you’re going to Hurray for the Riff Raff’s release party on Valentine’s Day at One Eyed Jacks? In addition to that, you can see many more amazing local and touring artists on the regular in the heart of the French Quarter. Long-time booker of some of the best indie acts in the city and country, One Eyed Jack’s has a full bar, great acoustics and even better company.
8. Tipitina’s – You can’t get more New Orleans than a visit to Tipitina’s, named after the one and only Professor Longhair’s song by the same name, and where the New Orleans artist performed in his later years. See local, national and international music legends play on a regular basis at the Uptown venue.
9. Record Stores – The other side of listening local? Buying local. New year, same old idea: support local businesses, who in turn support local musicians. As expected, New Orleans has a plethora of local recordings for you to browse and buy. Check out the Louisiana Music Factory, Euclid Records, and Domino Sound to start.
10. Gasa Gasa – It’s a new venue on the scene, part of the recent refurbishing of Freret Street that has professional reviewers and eaters chomping to hang out there every night of the week. At the heart of this formerly run-down corridor, Gasa Gasa is proud to call itself the most recent product of “culture clash,” and to encourage folks to get out of more well-known New Orleans areas and check out the fresh local talent performing at this hip new venue. Check out their upcoming events lineup.
11. Second Lines – It’s not unusual to encounter some of the best brass musicians and social aid and pleasure clubs marching through the streets of New Orleans on any given day. This is what’s called a second line, one of the singular cultural cornerstones of New Orleans. Keep your eye on local calendars like WWOZ and Gambit to see what planned second lines might be happening when you visit.
12. Brass Bands – Where to even begin? It’s no surprise that New Orleans continues to pour forth the deep, unmistakable sounds of daily life through the brass instruments that have set the heartbeat of our city for so long. For New Orleans brass bands that never fail to lift your spirits (and feet and arms and heart), look for regular concerts around town by Rebirth Brass Band, Hot 8 Brass Band, To Be Continued Brass Band, Soul Rebels, or Stooges.
13. Weekly Seasonal Fests – What’s that, you say? We already covered fests? Ah, mon chéri, but this is a different category of fests! Sure, we’ve got the big, single (and double) weekend fests. But not to be missed are the ongoing, weekly seasonal fests. The difference? The latter means more opportunities for you to catch music on the dates you’re in town — and for free — rather than coming into town specifically for a fest. These are still outdoors, still with food, and still with great people. Make sure to attend one (or all) of these local favorites in 2014: Jazz in the Park, Wednesdays at the Square, Wednesdays on the Point, and Harvest the Music.
14. Artists In Residences – We have so many kings and queens of music in New Orleans that we’ve given them thrones to sit on each week. New Orleans’ own artists in residence, are artists associated with specific venues — most in the Central Business District — where they play regular weekly concerts. Some of my favorites? Get gussied up for Jeremy Davenport at Davenport Lounge, or roll into a late night in whatever you’ve thrown on with Kermit Ruffins at Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy. For a midway-point, check out Irvin Mayfield at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse.