New Orleans Music Scene
Lauren Wells | March 22, 2014
Always a music trendsetter, New Orleans is the heart and soul of jazz, rhythm and blues, and even hip-hop! New Orleans is widely considered the birthplace of the jazz scene. Jelly Roll Morton, a notable ragtime and jazz pianist, got his start in New Orleans during the 1900s as he composed jazz songs like “Jelly Roll Blues” and “King Porter Stomp,” paving the way for the genre. Beginning in the 1920s, Louis Armstrong kept the New Orleans’ jazz movement alive with his raspy voice and trumpet/cornet skills. While jazz continued to gain popularity, Fats Domino helped popularize rhythm and blues and rock and roll with his chart-topping hits. The 60s continued on with the distinct rhythm and blues sound New Orleans is now known for, as NOLA natives like the Meters and the Dixie Cups churned out hits like “Chapel of Love.” Southern rock bands like The Radiators, Better Than Ezra, and Cowboy Mouth got their start throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The 80s and 90s also got a bit darker, with metal bands like Eyehategod, Soilent Green, Crowbar, and Down cultivating a following. New Orleans began to see the rising popularity of hip-hop in the 90s, with rappers like Lil Wayne, Master P, Birdman, and Juvenile coming out of the city to make it big.
The Republic, built in 1852 by the Montgomery family, was originally used as a coffee storage building, where its ease of access to the Mississippi River made it a coveted spot. Due to the 1984 World’s Fair, the building has since become a stylish and historic music venue in the Warehouse District, booking acts like the Foo Fighters, Better Than Ezra, and The Strokes. The Republic has a 4,000 square foot main stage room that accommodates crowds of about 700 people. Another room, the 200-capacity mezzanine, is a 2,500 square foot terrace that overlooks the main stage area. From the terrace, you can check out the large slate bar, crystal chandeliers, exposed wooden beams, and aged brick walls. The Green Room, the smallest of the three rooms, is a 500 square foot area ideal for private parties and smaller events.
Opened in 1975, the Mercedes Benz Superdome is a 73,208-capacity sports and entertainment venue located in the Central Business District. Home to the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, the Superdome is the largest fixed domed structure in the world. In addition to hosting football events like the Superbowl, the venue also hosts NCAA basketball, boxing matches, Major League Baseball games, gymnastics meets, motocross events, soccer games, wrestling matches, and concerts. Acts like the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Charlie Daniels Band, the Isley Brothers, the Temptations, Johnny Cash, June Carter, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, the Rolling Stones, Britney Spears, ‘N Sync, and Beyonce have performed here, so don’t miss out on the next A-lister coming through town.
Adjacent to the Superdome, the Smoothie King Center hosts big names like Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, and Kings of Leon. The 18,500-capacity indoor arena is home to the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, AFL’s New Orleans VooDoo, and Tulane University’s Wave basketball team. As a concert venue, the arena seats 7,500 people for shows like Shania Twain, Backstreet Boys, Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffett, Rage Against the Machine, Korn, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, ZZ Top, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, KISS, Poison, Ted Nugent, Nine Inch Nails, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Journey, Peter Frampton, Foreigner, and Santana, among many others.
The Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts has been dishing out classical theatre, opera, dance, and musical entertainment since 1973. Named after New Orleans’ beloved gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, the 2,100-capacity theater is located in Louis Armstrong Park. The theater is home to the New Orleans Ballet Association, the New Orleans Opera Association, and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Performances like Cats, The Color Purple, Wicked, Avenue Q, Mamma Mia, and West Side Story are often held at the Mahalia Jackson Theater. While severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the theatre reopened four years later, continuing its tradition of bringing quality classical programming to the New Orleans community.
A major tourist attraction, Mardi Gras World hosts the Buku Music and Art Project each year, featuring headliners like Ellie Goulding and Kaskade. A great area for corporate events, weddings, and concerts, Mardi Gras World’s venues include Grand Oaks Mansion, the Iberville and Bienville rooms, the River City Ballroom and the outdoor Mardi Gras square and River City Plaza.
The House of Blues in New Orleans opened in 1994 in the famous French Quarter. 298 pieces of folk art cover the venue’s walls, making it home to the largest collection of folk art in the U.S. Typical of all House of Blues venues throughout the States, the NOLA location displays the “Crazy Quilt” and stashes a box of Mississippi River mud underneath the stage. The venue also pays tribute to blues legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown by hanging a portrait of him in “his” booth (there’s also a plaque hung in his honor). From comedy shows to touring concerts, House of Blues has it all; acts like the Johnny Clegg band, Flogging Molly, HIM, Queensryche, and Yonder Mountain String Band come through the venue throughout the year.
Located in Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, Masquerade Night Club hosts DJ and live music events. You don’t have to sacrifice hitting the slots either; there are $5 blackjack and table games right inside the club. Complete with dancers, oversized couches, VIP lounges, colorful light displays, and fully stocked bars, Masquerade hosts shows by Lemonhead, San-D, and Roonie G. Nightclub & Bar Magazine voted Masquerade #27 on their Top 100 Nightclubs list, so you know you’re getting a quality experience when you and your friends roll through.
The University of New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena brings in comedy acts like Chelsea Handler, Katt Williams, and Robin Williams as well as A-list musicians like Paramore, Daughtry, Fall Out Boy, Rick Ross, Avril Lavigne, Lady Gaga, One Republic, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Tom Petty, Zac Brown Band, Sting, Norah Jones, and Carrie Underwood. The arena is located on the East Campus, and has been bringing in the best names in music since 1983. With a capacity of 8,933, the Lakefront Arena is home to the University of New Orleans Privateers men’s and women’s basketball teams. In addition to concerts and basketball games, the arena hosts swimming and diving events, MMA matches, and volleyball games.
The Saenger Theatre, built in 1927, is an official historic landmark of New Orleans. Now a music venue, the space was once a movie palace. After numerous renovations, the Saenger Theatre now features its original color scheme, floor plan, matching marquees, and decor with some modern technological updates. Performers like Jerry Seinfeld, John Legend, Il Divo, and Sarah Mclachlan take the stage, as well as Broadway hits like War Horse, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, Once, Mamma Mia, and Annie. A classic theatre by every account, the Saenger is back on its feet after suffering damages from Hurricane Katrina, so help support the theatre while checking out some of the greatest names in entertainment!
The Civic Theatre, built in 1906, is the oldest theatre in New Orleans, and even features its original plaster molding. The venue will serve you signature cocktails developed by Neal Bodenheimer, a notable mixologist, while you enjoy the concerts, plays, films, and private events you love. The 1,100-capacity venue hosts acts like Modest Mouse, Pink Martini, Karmin, and Umphrey’s McGee. With a customizable stage for larger or smaller setups, the Civic features a general admission floor area, a second tier balcony, and a third tier balcony– there isn’t a bad seat in the place!
Located in the historic Warehouse District, the Sugar Mill hosts concerts, trade shows, conventions, and corporate events. The 22,000 square foot main floor is connected to a 15,000 square foot landscaped outdoor courtyard area. Acts like Lana Del Rey, Journey, Rascal Flatts, Alabama Shakes, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, and Thievery Corporation perform at the Sugar Mill throughout the year.
A two-day festival held every March, the Buku Music and Art Project is held at Mardi Gras World, featuring headliners like The Flaming Lips, David Guetta, Ellie Goulding, Kaskade, Zedd, Chromeo, Explosions in the Sky, Tyler the Creator, Phantogram, Pusha T, the Glitch Mob, Danny Brother, Seth Troxler, Wavves, and many others. With four stages located along the Mississippi River, the Buku Music and Art Project hits New Orleans’ sweet spot of creativity. The quirky stages include the Power Plant Stage, which was actually a former power plant, and the Float Den Stage, a massive Mardi Gras float manufacturing warehouse.
The New Orleans Fairgrounds opened in 1852 and has since become a popular thoroughbred racetrack in the NOLA area. In addition to horse races, the fairgrounds also host events like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. With a lineup including Phish, Santana, Christina Aguilera, Arcade Fire, Robin Thicke, the String Cheese Incident, Trey Songz, Vampire Weekend, Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, Foster the People, the Avett Brothers, Charlie Wilson, and Alabama Shakes, this festival has been a NOLA staple since its inception in 1970. Expect a lot of local food (crawfish, jalapeno bread, fried green tomatoes, etc.) and family-friendly crafts to go along with your music experience.
Another New Orleans tradition is the Voodoo Music Experience at New Orleans City Park, held every November since 1999. The multi-day festival is a top-ranking festival with past headliners that have included Pearl Jam, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Muse, Eminem, Duran Duran, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tiesto, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, KISS, Calvin Harris, Snoop Dogg, R.E.M., Neil Young, the Black Keys, and many more. With an on-sight camping experience, local food vendors, merchandise galore, and insane set lists, Voodoo has hosted over 2,000 artists and about a million fans since its start in 1999.
The Essence Music Festival, often known as “the party with a purpose,” has been going strong since 1995, delivering headliners like Prince, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Destiny’s Child, Kanye West, Beyonce, Janet Jackson, Usher, Lionel Richie, and Mary J. Blige, among others. Hosted by Essence Magazine, the festival celebrates African American culture and music.
Southern Decadence, held every Labor Day weekend, is the largest gay event in New Orleans. The festival has been going on for over forty years, making it a NOLA mainstay in the French Quarter. With nightly dance parties, DJs, and live music, this three day event attracts over 110,000 people, and is one of New Orleans’ top tourist events. Entertainers like Lance Bass, Sean Michael, Drew G., Mike Bryant, Max Rodriguez, and Derek Monteiro spin beats and keep the party going late into the night.
The French Quarter Festival, held in April, is a three day festival presenting acts like New Birth Brass Band, Melody Cloud Singers, PJ Morton, the Pfister Sisters, the Victory Big Band, Soul Rebels, and Corey Ledet. This free festival features over 1,000 musicians across over 20 stages, showcasing traditional and contemporary jazz, world music, rock, and pop from New Orleans’ most beloved musicians. Show up hungry because the French Quarter Festival serves the best local cuisine (think crawfish and goat cheese crepes– mmm!).