The clarion call of a trumpet reverberates as we arrive at the base of Frenchmen Street. The air is thick with the lilt of a brass band busking on the next corner, mingled selections of jazz, rock, and reggae spilling out of club doorways, and snippets of overheard conversation in the crowd. Over the din, I especially notice the potent combination of drums and horns.
Frenchmen Street is for music what Bourbon Street should have been, or maybe used to be–a lively collection of intimate venues where you may be able to see a Dixieland Jazz band, a French-style chanteuse, a syncopated brass band, a blues legend, and a progressive rock band – all in the same night. Frenchmen is where the locals still go for a great night out. Tourists abound and are warmly welcomed, but they are a worldlier sort than their counterparts over on Bourbon Street, swilling blue liquor out of plastic shoes.
As we begin our stroll, we spy a small crowd dancing in a courtyard lit with strings of globe lights. On our left, we pass The Maison and The Blue Nile, both beckoning us with chalkboards announcing their acts for the night. It’s still too early to decide, so we keep walking. Peering into the Irish pub 13, we see an artist debuting some paintings in the back. If we drink enough, we might stop back at 13 later for an order of their deadly Tator Tachos. On our left, a reggae band is doing a sound-check inside Café Negril, a good place for late night tacos if we don’t run into the burrito pushcart wizard or the neighborhood girl hawking her homemade cupcakes first. On our right, we pass Apple Barrel, a snug hole in the wall where a virtuoso bluesman wails away on his guitar. Up ahead, the Art Market overflows with the bohemians of the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater displaying their wares.
In front of us, the bass brand we first heard in the distance is now standing steps away. Before we pick a music venue, we stop and dance in the street for a few songs with the gathered crowd. We could do this all night, but it’s decision-making time. The headliner at d.b.a. is a recent Grammy-winner, and I love their beer selection. But standing in the doorway of Three Muses, we are nearly lured in by a tall, smiling man in suspenders plucking an upright bass and a waiter delivering apple, bacon, and blue cheese fritters. Then across the way at The Spotted Cat, we spot a seven piece Dixieland Jazz band. When the door opens, it sounds like the piano player is really going at it. Maybe we’ll just stop in for a drink. Only, moments later, we glance up the street, and there is an absolute legend playing at Snug Harbor. For a moment, we just can’t decide. But we can all agree that one night on Frenchmen Street is not going to be enough.