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A musician’s guide to the best shows in New Orleans



Tulane University


A musician’s guide to the best shows in New Orleans

When loud brass bands and shitty funk stop making the cut

Eli Kemp


In the muddle of blasting brass and underwhelming funk that permeates New Orleans, it is difficult to find shows that challenge musical boundaries and escape tradition while also featuring musicians who perform with the connectedness and togetherness that only years of intimate musical experience can produce. Watching musicians communicate on stage through their instruments, when they are lost deep in musical conversation, is a profound New Orleans experience and a must-do for Tulanians.

Some of the best musical displays are hidden where tourists and college students won’t stumble in. Insiders know to go and outsiders don’t know what they’re missing. If you want to see music that will invigorate your senses and display the artistic limits of human connectedness, look no further.

Here are the best places and times to see music that is guaranteed to surprise and entertain:

Sidebar Nola hosts “scatter jazz” performances multiple times per week in which some of the top musicians in New Orleans perform the weird shit that they would never be allowed to do on Frenchmen Street or at music festivals. They start each song with a blank canvas and splatter sounds on it with spontaneous inspiration, following their visceral impulses. James Singleton and Johnny Vidacovich are among the pioneers of local geniuses who choose to perform at Sidebar not to make money or impress tourists, but to show fans who care the limits and capabilities of sonic expression and form.

Some upcoming shows I recommend: Aurora Nealand on November 3rd (lovely voice and creative musical mind), Rex Gregory on November 6th (divine sax blower who makes the rules while he breaks them), and James Singleton on November 12th (New Orleans bassist with crazy style and crazier groove). Be warned, all of these shows are highly experimental and challenge the boundaries of music as we know it. This is a must-see venue for any avant-garde music lover in New Orleans.

Snug Harbor is the ultimate jazz venue in New Orleans.

It’s not exactly underground, but Tulane kids don’t seem to realize that you’re crazy if you’ve never been. Located on Frenchmen Street, but tucked away discretely from the main strip, Snug Harbor is where top notch O.G. New Orleans cats give us brain spinning performances on a nightly basis. Ellis Marsalis plays there every Friday, Charmaine Neville every Monday, and Stanton Moore every Tuesday. But my favorite performances at Snug happen when younger cats get a chance to prove their worth. This venue is a right of passage in New Orleans so the young bloods always give it their all. Shows at Snug are not as experimental as at Sidebar, but the musical conversations that happen during performances at Snug never fail to take my breath away. Shows usually cost 15 to 20 dollars but it is well worth it if you want to see the best music offered in New Orleans, hands down. Maybe you can even get your parents to pay!

Some upcoming shows that I highly recommend: Delfeayo Marsalis on November 1st (killer big-band jazz), the Shannon Powell trio on November 12th (legendary drummer who blows my rhythmic mind), Adonis Rose and NOJO Jam on November 16th (twisting and challenging modern jazz), and the Joe Dyson Quintet on November 26th (Tulane drum teacher Joe Dyson is a hell of a dude and a God of a drummer).

Dos Jefes is the spot to be every Wednesday night when the George French Trio hits the stage.

This cigar bar allows you to smoke cigarettes and cigars inside (they bypass the no-smoking law since they are a cigar bar), and has the ambiance of a locals-only jazz bar from the 1920s. The soulful, funky, jazzy French Trio flirts with the mainstream but the musicians are all so interconnected and inspiring that I don’t care if they play Summertime and House of the Rising Sun, as long as they play it together. George French plays bass and sings while his son, Gerald French, calmly commands the drums with impossible ease. The connectedness between this father son combo is addicting, and produces face melting “how did they do that together?” moments every song. They play three sets every Wednesday night, at roughly 10pm, 11pm and midnight. This is a must see if you want an intimate and authentic New Orleans music experience! Go with your friends or bring a date, either one works at this venue.

You are in New Orleans for college. Don't fuck it up by not seeing great music while you are here.

If you want to see Mardi Gras brass bands for the rest of your life, be my guest and go to a random venue on Frenchmen Street. But if you want the most cutting edge and/or inspiring music that New Orleans has to offer, then I'll see you at these three venues in the upcoming weeks.