Everywhere you walk in New Orleans, live music is part of the rhythm of everyday life, pouring out of open doorways and ringing out from street corners. The city’s thriving musical community provides a vivacious, ongoing soundtrack for visitors and locals alike — as well as inspiration for burgeoning musicians in the Big Easy. While you’re in town, immerse yourself in an authentic musical experience by catching a performance by these five must-see local performers.
Rebirth Brass Band
Genre: Jazz and funk
Why they’re a must: You might recognize their music from the HBO series Tremé: the big, swinging sound of tubas, trumpets, drums, saxophones and trombones that has been the soundtrack of New Orleans for more than 25 years. When Rebirth Brass Band isn’t traveling to play gigs around the country, you can catch them performing in intimate music venues in the Warehouse District and Frenchmen Street, including Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf Bar.
Meschiya Lake and The Little Big Horns
Genre: Jazz and blues
Why they’re a must: With her bold tattoos and onstage beer can-popping proclivities, Meschiya Lake might seem more suited to punk rock than swinging ballads of past eras, but once you catch her belting out lively jazz tunes or sultry blues songs, you’ll be persuaded she’s in the right genre. Along with her band The Little Big Horns, Lake has worked her way up from modest street performances to regular spots at music venues in the Faubourg Marigny-Bywater District, so make sure to check her calendar for upcoming shows.
Why he’s a must: Few New Orleans musicians have stood out in the last decade as notably as Irvin Mayfield. The New Orleans native is an accomplished jazz trumpet player, with a Grammy and a Billboard Album of the Year to his credit. But fame and worldwide travel haven’t changed his perspective on his hometown one bit. He still plays at his namesake venue Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse every Wednesday he’s in town.
Why (s)he’s a must: If her name is any indication, Big Freedia has a larger than life stage presence — though it’s hardly unexpected from a gay rapper with rainbow-colored hair and a propensity for racy lyrics. Born as a male but referred to as female, Big Freedia is known for putting on high-energy shows packed with up-tempo beats, call-and-response refrains, groove-inducing lyrics and a loyal (and enthusiastic) fan base. Be advised: Big Freedia’s shows are not for the faint of heart and are definitely an adult-only experience.
Genre: Contemporary jazz, funk and rock
Why he’s a must: Troy Trombone Shorty Andrews has been playing music since he was four years old, and since then, the Grammy-nominated trombone and trumpet player has toured with Lenny Kravitz and produced nine studio albums.
Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs
Genre: Hip-hop, jazz and rock
Why he's a must: Front man and trumpeter Shamarr Allen has been playing Jazz Fest since he was 14 years old, and he’s also performed with notable musicians such as Willie Nelson and R.E.M. Catch a performance by him and his band, the Underdawgs, as they play hits from their newly released album 504-799-8147, which embodies this group’s unique blend of hip-hop, jazz and rock.