The twin foundations of New Orleans life are music and food. If you’ve ever been to the city, you already know that, and it’s likely what draws you back — that and the plethora of medical meetings held there each year.
Just as an aside, is there anyone who doesn’t think it’s ironic that cardiologists would choose to gather in a city that has enshrined butter, pork fat, and salt?
If you are headed to the American Academy of Dermatology’s annual meeting Feb. 4-8, we’ve got guides to both food and music for you. Food was ably covered by my colleague Michele Sullivan, here. Now on to music.
First, know that it is New Orleans; being a laissez-faire kind of town, nothing ever is written in stone. So it is wise to check the listings before heading out anywhere. Good places to look are in the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s daily events page, WWOZ’s live wire (on-air at 90.7 FM on the hour and on the Web), and Offbeat magazine’s club listings.
Many bands or musicians have weekly gigs, and some play nightly, so there is more than one opportunity to catch some of them.
Thursday is one of the most popular nights to go out and always offers an embarrassment of riches. On Thursday, Feb. 3, you can choose from the smooth jazz sounds of Jeremy Davenport at the Ritz-Carlton, to the funkier trumpet of Shamarr Allen at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta, to the pounding zydeco beat of Dwayne Dopsie at the Krazy Korner on Bourbon St. Zydeco, with its deep bass and drums, is actually not a New Orleans music form. It originated in southwest Louisiana, just as Cajun music did. If you want to see a real zydeco cowboy from that area and some serious dancing, head to Rock ‘N’ Bowl to see Geno Delafose. Rock ‘N’ Bowl is a New Orleans icon: part bar, part bowling alley, and a testament to post-Katrina survival.
For a divey experience, try Le Bon Temps in Uptown on Magazine St. for the Soul Rebels brass band’s regular gig in the cramped collegiate space. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the music/interview at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s Odgen After Hours program. You can sip wine, tour the museum, listen to music, and be in bed by 10pm.
On Friday, try walking up and down Frenchmen St., where many of the clubs lining both sides of the street for several blocks have no cover, and you can check out the music from the street. There’s almost always a party around trumpeter Kermit Ruffins — a one-man New Orleans- and self-promoting machine who will be at the Blue Nile, but not until 11 pm. Kermit also holds court Tuesday nights at a bar in Treme, Bullets, and Thursday nights at Vaughan’s in the Bywater. He will be recognizable to anyone who has seen the HBO miniseries Treme, as will Vaughan’s.
Something more low-key? Try local singer-songwriter Paul Sanchez at the off-the-beaten path and no-smoking bar, Chickie Wah Wah. Or the Ellis Marsalis Quartet at Snug Harbor, a premier jazz club on Frenchmen St. The Marsalis family is one of the pre-eminent New Orleans music families, along with the Nevilles.
Saturday night, check into d.b.a. (which also recently went nonsmoking) on Frenchmen for the superbly soulful vocals of John Boutte. John lent his song Treme to HBO for the series’ theme song. Only a $5 cover and the show starts at 8pm.
Monday night is a good time to see David Doucet of Beausoleil play his acoustic guitar and spin tales from his Cajun upbringing at the stately Columns Hotel on St. Charles Ave. No cover. Funk and jam band devotees go to the Maple Leaf Bar for Papa Grows Funk. Tuesday night belongs to the quintessential horn-based sounds of Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf. Expect a mostly college-age crowd and a very late start.
Wednesday night, you’d be remiss if you did not at least stop in at d.b.a. for some of Walter Wolfman Washington’s seriously bluesy funk.
Almost any night is a good time to stop into Preservation Hall, which opened in 1961 with the aim of protecting the heritage of New Orleans jazz. If Clint Maedgen is singing with them, you’re in for a treat. The powerful vocalist is usually tied up with his side project, the quirky New Orleans Bingo Show. For a taste of him and the band, consider purchasing the excellent benefit CD, Preservation, which features vocalists from Merle Haggard to Tom Waits.
The best place to pick that up, aside from the Hall itself, is one of America’s best independent music stores, the Louisiana Music Factory, across from the House of Blues on Decatur St. in the French Quarter. The Factory also has free music on Saturday Feb. 5. But I’d recommend stopping here right before you go home — to stock up on CDs from all those great musicians you heard.
— Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)