While showing a few out-of-towners around New Orleans recently, the daily music listings came over the car radio and unleashed a lengthy litany of gigs scheduled around the city that night. About halfway through the list, one of my guests just couldn’t take it anymore.
“Good God!” he exclaimed. “All this is going on here tonight? There’s too much. How do you even choose? It’s an embarrassment of riches!”
I teasingly countered that most of us are actually extremely proud of our city’s wealth in musical talent, not embarrassed by it, though of course his point is well-taken. And truthfully, sometimes even the staunchest New Orleans music fan can take the local pickings for granted.
But we are now entering a time of year when we get a big reminder of what it’s all about. The promise of autumn weather fills the New Orleans calendar with small festivals and local events, and you can count on great live music with local bands setting the soundtrack. Just a glance at the highlights for this week alone shows how easy and accessible it all is here.
There are people living in other cities who would walk on gilded splinters for the chance to see Dr. John live in concert. Tonight, the R&B legend will play for free in the CBD at an event that amounts to a giant outdoor happy hour from 5 to 7:30.
The event is part of the Harvest the Music series, which hosts weekly concerts in Lafayette Square. It’s the autumnal answer to the Wednesday at the Square series held in the downtown park each spring, and it follows essentially the same format. Admission is free, and the public supports the event in that easy manner we all know so well –– simply buying drinks and food from vendors at the site. Proceeds benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank. Kermit Ruffins plays next week, Oct. 13, and the Radiators are up Oct. 20. See the full schedule here.
This weekend only ups the ante with two free and relatively new neighborhood festivals going on across town from each other. The third annual Gentilly Fest goes down this Saturday and Sunday in Pontchartrain Park with bands performing on a main stage and local choirs singing inside a gospel tent. See the lineup here.
Saturday and Sunday will also see the return of the Magazine Street Blues Festival, held Uptown at the corner of Magazine Street and Napoleon Avenue. This event is only in its second year, but it has already expanded from one to two days this time around, and the band schedule looks fantastic.
Gentilly Fest and the Magazine Street Blues Festival are each small neighborhood-based events, and they seem completely off the radar for most visitors. Neither can offer anything like the production values of the city’s big marquee festivals. But they have all the fun and spirit of a good New Orleans party with an intensely local crowd and music that represents the abundant cultural riches we have here. The only “embarrassment” we need feel for these riches is if we don’t get out and enjoy them ourselves.