New Orleans: Sensory Overload

This image is no longer available

Photo credit: Josephine Matyas

Things get a little crazy in New Orleans. We’ve been here a few times before so have managed to learn the NOLA ropes and easily navigated the line between fun and too much fun. Like all big cities, there are little-known music gems you definitely don’t want to miss, and other things you can easily bypass.

By Josephine Matyas & Craig Jones

Don’t Miss

1. Frenchmen Street. Just east of the French Market, the two-block area of Frenchmen Street is where the locals have migrated to hear the strains of authentic jazz. Clubs like Snug Harbor and The Spotted Cat host big names like Ellis Marsalis and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins.

2. Jazz Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters is a calorie-rich way to taste all the classic N’awlins favourites, from turtle soup and shrimp etouffee to bread pudding and bananas foster. Brunch is served seven days a week (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) in the French Quarter’s largest courtyard, amply shaded by a 120-year-old wisteria. “The bread pudding is the one recipe we don’t let the chef tinker with,” explained our server. “It’s the owner’s grandmother’s recipe and it’s made with raisins and a whiskey sauce.” All the while, live jazz percolates across the courtyard.

3. New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, located at the Old U.S. Mint building at the east end of the French Quarter. Climb the steps to the second floor for a display of period photographs and video on jazz in NOLA, with special attention paid to Preservation Hall. You can fawn over Louis Armstrong’s first cornet (considered the “Holy Grail” of jazz history) and Fats Domino’s white grand piano.

Related Post: Great Music Trails: The Journey Begins

4. National Park Service Self-Guided Walking Tour of Jazz Sites. Download the free audio files at for your cell phone or MP3 player (or pick up a brochure), tune your ears to jazz and connect the dots. Begin at Congo Square, a 19th-century meeting place for enslaved Africans to drum, dance and sing. These musical expressions were the forerunners of Mardi Gras Indians, second line traditions and eventually New Orleans jazz and rhythm and blues.  The square is in the middle of Armstrong Park, where you’ll also find statues to Pops himself and jazz giant Sidney Bechet. The rest of the walking tour will take you through the historic French Quarter with stops at Preservation Hall, Basin Street and Black Storyville.

5. Preservation Hall is the iconic setting for traditional New Orleans jazz. The 45-minute show is held nightly at 8 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., seven days a week (admission is first come, first served). It’s old and hot and cramped, but the music is as authentic as it gets, played by some of the city’s finest jazz artists. Sit as close as possible for the full jazz experience.







Related Post: Walking, Singing and Strumming in the Footsteps of History

6. Enjoy the city’s excellent, spontaneous street musicians (and leave a tip in their fiddle cases). You’ll find them on most street corners, but head for Royal Street and Jackson Square where they play in front of St. Louis Cathedral.






Give it a Pass

Bourbon Street. Well, maybe not a complete pass – but a quick stroll along a block or two gives you the general idea: neon signs, tacky t-shirt shops, strip clubs and lots of inebriated people. The locals remember the good ol’ days on Bourbon Street – when clubs and restaurants were filled with authentic jazz and ladies and their escorts dressed to the nines for an evening out. The good news is that one or two blocks away, streets like Royal and Chartres show off this beautiful city’s atmospheric bars, small courtyards, and stunning Colonial and Creole architecture.

Related Post: Travelling the Crooked Music Trail

Groove like a local

1. Tune in to WWOZ 90.7 FM, the city’s non-commercial jazz and heritage station.

2. Indulge in an icing sugar-drenched beignet in the shaded courtyard at the excellent Café Beignet on Royal Street or at Café du Monde in the French Market (wear white or you’ll be courting disaster). Sit at the outdoor patios and you’ll catch a whiff of the street musicians.

3. If you happen to find yourself near a second line – brass band parades on the move – park your inhibitions and join in the spontaneous dancing and conga line effect.

4. 2013 is Louisiana’s Year of Music. Enjoy.


About the authors: This is an experiment in creating a lifestyle: Taking her expertise (travel writing) and his experience (as a professional musician and freelance writer), stirring it together and seeing what happens. Add a camper van (a 20-foot Leisure Travel Class B, for those who need the specs), an easy going Border Collie (Eleanor Rigby), a window of six weeks and a yearning to follow and write about the great music trails of the Southeast United States. There’s a file full of maps and a GPS nicknamed “Hal” (we prefer the maps).