Best music venues in New Orleans

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Making the bon temps rouler in the Crescent City

I know what it means to miss New Orleans. I’ve been visiting this amazing city for more than 20 years, and I continue to get pulled back there for so many reasons, not the least of which is music.

With so many venues in New Orleans, it’s difficult to know where to start. But with so many venues, you almost can’t go wrong, no matter where you land. Use this list to begin your musical adventure in NOLA, but don’t be afraid to dig deeper and venture to places unknown. You won’t be disappointed.

Tipitina’s

One of the best known and most beloved music venues in NOLA is Tipitina’s. It’s a big club that can accommodate about 1,000 people, and it hosts some of the city’s (and the world’s) best performers. Everything about Tipitina’s oozes a New Orleans vibe. Also, the Tipitina Foundation that has provided millions of dollars of musical instruments to schools in Louisiana. How cool is that?

This generous spirit goes back to Tipitina’s founding in 1977. The place was started by a group of musicians as a place where the revered Professor Longhair could play in his later years. While most people think he named a song for the venue (I did!), the venue was actually named after one of his songs.

It’s iconic. It’s wonderful. And it’s my very favorite place in New Orleans, mostly because of the artists it attracts. No matter how short you stay in town, Tipitina’s should not be missed.

Tipitina’s on Napoleon Avenue

Rock ‘n’ Bowl

The Rock ‘n’ Bowl is all about fun, in a Big Easy kind of way. Under the same roof you can bowl, eat, or dance (probably don’t try them all at once). Arrive early for dinner and enjoy not only typical bowling alley fare (burgers and pizza), but also decidedly Louisiana food such as duck nachos, boudin links, and beignets.

Inside the bar, music dictates the agenda every night. Wednesday is swing night, Thursday is zydeco (my favorite). On both evenings you can take dance lessons before you hit the lanes (or you can, like me, just free-form dance to the music). There’s always live music on Friday and Saturday nights, too.

Maple Leaf Bar

I first stumbled upon the Maple Leaf many years ago during Mardi Gras, when Marcia Ball, an American blues singer, was playing. The place was packed, the doors were open, people filled the street, and her boogie-woogie piano music blasted forth. Since then, it’s always been a place I hold dear.

I’m not alone, as a host of repeat customers have made the Maple Leaf the longest continually operating music club in New Orleans. Amazingly, the place hosts live performances every single night. In addition to music, you might find poetry readings or fashion shows.

Viewfinder Tip: New Orleans is always warm. Dress light and carry an umbrella as you never know when you’ll encounter a downpour.

The Maple Leaf has a lineup of regulars on certain nights of the week. One of those recurring acts: The Rebirth Brass Band, which performs every Tuesday night. Other musicians and events fill in throughout the month.

Because the Maple Leaf and Rock ‘n’ Bowl are only about 1.5 miles from each other, you could start your night at the latter joint and then head to the Maple Leaf for some late-night music afterward.

Preservation Hall

Preservation Hall is a small venue in the French Quarter with three hour-long shows every night. Book your tickets ahead of time; on every occasion that I’ve walked by, there are lines well in advance of shows.

Preservation Hall is for the tried-and-true music fan; performers usually focus on traditional New Orleans jazz. The place has about 100 musicians on their roster and they rotate through them so you won’t know whom exactly you’ll be seeing until right before you go. Whoever you see, it’s a sure bet they’ll be talented.

This venue is not far from the Bourbon Orleans, my favorite accommodation in NOLA, located in the heart of the French Quarter.

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

I can’t write a post about music in New Orleans without mentioning the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (most commonly called Jazz Fest). Despite its name, this 7-day event, split over two weekends (usually in April and May), is not exclusively about jazz. You also will find artists playing rock, country, pop, samba, Cajun, zydeco, blues, and more.

It’s been too many years since I last attended Jazz Fest, but when I looked at the 2014 lineup (2015 is not yet available), I nearly cried looking at all the artists I missed last year alone. I mean, Bruce Springsteen, Aaron Neville, Zachary Richard, BeauSoleil. Oh, I can’t go on. It’s too painful.

What are your favorite music venues in your home city?

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Beth Whitman

Beth Whitman finished her tenure as an Expedia Viewfinder blogger at the end of 2015. She is the founder and CEO of Wanderlust and Lipstick and WanderTours. With 25+ years of solo travel, she writes for the women's travel market to encourage women to travel and live out their dream journeys.

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