New Orleans is legendary for the music that it inspires, creates, records and exports. It's so prevalent that one almost can't avoid it. In recent months, I went to dinner at Jacques-Imo's only to have a brass band from the Maple Leaf next door rampage through the restaurant at full tilt. I went to City Park to walk the dog only to have him cower at the thunderous noises erupting from a marching band performance at Tad Gormley Stadium. I tried to drive through the C.B.D. one afternoon only to get gridlocked by traffic not driving away after work but to the free concert in Lafayette Square. There's hardly a night on the calendar when it's not possible to see a great local or touring act in one of the many music venues spread throughout the city, from Tipitina's in Uptown all the way down to Snug Harbor in the Marigny. With so much music on offer, there's also an embarrassment of riches in the area of free shows " especially good news for the bar budgets of music fans. There are up-and-coming bands playing for a percentage of the bar take, afternoon-time family-friendly gigs and, even as the weather cools, plenty of free outdoor events on the weekends for those willing to bundle up.
Frenchmen Street has long been the alternative strip for locals who want more authenticity in their entertainment than Bourbon can offer, but it's a great starting point for listeners who want to groove on the cheap. The venerable Checkpoint Charlie's (501 Esplanade Ave., 281-4847), on the edge of the French Quarter, offers a grab bag of live sounds nightly. The lineup varies from the bitter intellectual folk of the Fens on Mondays to the regular Tuesday night open blues jam to headbanging regular shows from out-of-town punk and metal acts. Experimental trombone player Jeff Albert has curated a run (the Open Ears Music Series) of improvisational jazz nights featuring some of the most exciting experimental players from in and out of town on Wednesday nights at the Blue Nile (532 Frenchmen St., 948-2583) through November and December. Across the street from Snug Harbor, the cozy Spotted Cat (632 Frenchmen St., 943-3887) never charges a cover for acts like Vavavoom, the Hot Club of New Orleans and Washboard Chaz Trio. At d.b.a.'s (618 Frenchmen St., 942-3731) early evening weekend shows at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., artists like Linnzi Zaorski are on tap for the price of a microbrew.
Sometimes all it takes for a bargain is a trip away from downtown. In Mid-City, the Banks Street Bar (4401 Banks St., 486-0258) never charges a cover for almost-nightly shows from acts like Walter 'Wolfman" Washington and Kevin O'Day. Thursday nights at Le Bon Temps Roulé (4801 Magazine St., 895-8117) in Uptown include a gratis shack-shaking show from the Soul Rebels Brass Band. The swanky Columns Hotel (3811 St. Charles Ave., 899-9308) provides an atmosphere to enjoy a little luxury without spending more than your bar bill; it offers up local jazz nightly at 8 p.m.
For daytime revelers, the in-store shows at the Louisiana Music Factory (210 Decatur St., 586-1094) are a great excuse to start drinking early on weekend afternoons, with gigs from local artists promoting new albums on most Fridays and Saturdays (this Friday, Dorothy Moore performs at 2 p.m.). The Uptown bookstore McKeown's (4737 Tchoupitoulas St., 895-1954) has also hosted some extraordinary jams from avant-garde jazz artists on weekends " James Singleton is a regular. Mid-City's newest record store, Domino Sound (2557 Bayou Road, 309-0871), also hosts regular in-store shows by local acts with a more underground bent. At the Big Top (1638 Clio St., 569-2700), the every-other-Friday Music Camp for Kids is free for children and Big Top members. The bar is open for adults while local artists like Davis Rogan and Lynn Drury school tots on New Orleans sounds. In the evenings, the Bywater wine shop Bacchanal (600 Poland Ave., 948-9111) hosts local music Fridays and Sundays in its outdoor patio, with tapas on Fridays and a full dinner menu on Sundays starting at 6 p.m. Bands like Broken Smokes, 007 and the Other Planets have all been featured.
So next time concerned friends and relatives ask you the perennial question 'How are things down there?" just tell them how we laugh, penuriously, when we travel to New York and San Francisco and see touring New Orleans acts bringing in (deservedly) 10 and 20 bucks a ticket. We can catch acts like Preservation Hall guitarist Carl Le Blanc gigging for free at the Circle Bar (1032 St. Charles Ave., 588-2616) on a random Tuesday night. Oh, and our rent's cheaper, too.
- Cheryl Gerber
- Trombonist Corey Henry plays during a free set at Le Bon Temps Roule.