If it's Carnival time, practically the whole city is a venue for brass bands. It's nearly impossible not to get sucked into a performance, whether it's at a corner bar, a parade or simply a throwdown on the street. Out of season, though, it takes a little more luck, patience and friendly weather patterns.
There's nothing like hearing brass bands in the street or out marching. Someone looking for a brass fix could wander around the French Quarter and the Marigny and spot the To Be Continued Brass Band playing an impromptu afternoon gig in Jackson Square or find them at the corner of Bourbon and Canal streets on Saturday nights. The same sort of guerrilla actions can also be found on random weekday evenings at the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres streets.
But what if you want to give the randomness a rest and find a great joint to put down roots and enjoy a relatively nonmobile good time? Getting invited to a decent birthday party is one option, as celebrating folks' special days seems to be a bread-and-butter gig for brass bands. That brings up a beautiful thing about brass bands: While they are undoubtedly in the game for the music, many of them are hard-core, unapologetic capitalists " if you pay, they will play. So if you're game, you can finance your own brass festival.
Your other option? Hit up one of the following clubs, all of which have regularly scheduled nights where brass is spotlighted.
One of the city's longest-running brass band stands features the Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar (8316 Oak St., 866-9359). It's the best known gig in town thanks to the Rebirth's longtime residency, which shows no sign of fading. The Maple Leaf typically fills around 11 p.m. and rocks for three long sets.
Over the years, many brass band musicians have grown up in Tremé. To hear music in the neighborhood, head to the Candlelight Lounge (925 N. Robertson St.) on Wednesday nights to hear the Tremé Brass Band. This cinderblock bunker with the crude and charming mural is low on frills, but the music provides all the ambience you need.
Across from Congo Square, Donna's Bar and Grill (800 N. Rampart St., 596-6914) originally opened to feature brass bands. It's played host to many of the city's brass bands and even visiting New Orleans-style brass bands from other countries.
In the Marigny, Ray's Room (508 Frenchmen St., 309-7137) is a place to look for regular brass band gigs. Tuesday night is usually reserved for brass bands, and in September, the Red Hot Brass Band, a group of kids ranging from ages 12 to 16, will fill the slot.
Mid-City's Chocolate Bar (540 S. Broad St.) is on the block where Irma Thomas' Lion's Den used to be. It frequently hosts the Free Agents Brass Band on Sunday evenings.
Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter St., 522-2841) is also getting in on the act. Thursdays nights at this historic French Quarter venue are dedicated to a revolving line-up of brass, ranging from the New Birth Brass Band to the Tornado Brass Band and the Paulin Brothers Brass Band.
The Soul Rebels Brass Band pulls into Le Bon Temps Roule (4801 Magazine St., 895-8117) on Thursday nights for glorious but steamy shows in what has to be one of the tightest and sweatiest rooms in town. But the sound and the crowd spill out into the street so there's plenty of breathing room.
Mid City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl (4133 S. Carrollton Ave., 482-3133) keeps brass music in its lineup of New Orleans genres. Tuesday's New Orleans Music nights often feature brass bands.
Other clubs that regularly book brass bands include (but are definitely not limited to) the Dragon's Den (435 Esplanade Ave.), the Blue Nile (532 Frenchmen St., 948-2583), the Balcony Music Club (1331 Decatur St.) and Sydney's Saloon (1301 St. Bernard Ave., 943-9461).