In New Orleans music is such a dominant force it cannot be contained to clubs or festivals or concert halls. A number of the city’s most beloved musicians got their start on the corners of Royal or Frenchmen streets or among the artists and tarot-card readers in Jackson Square. Even when a talent is discovered on the streets and put in clubs or on tour, many musicians still crave the immediate audience connection that only busking can provide.
“I learned how to connect my music with the people hearing it on the street,” says Louis Michot, a member of the Grammy-nominated Lost Bayou Ramblers. “It was a huge part of my musical training. The best thing is when you hear a band from blocks away, and you go toward the music, and there’s this whole band playing and owning that corner. That’s just so New Orleans.”
Due to the transient nature of street performers, they can often be hard to pin down; the groups profiled below are just a small sampling of the musicians that can be found around the French Quarter on a fairly regular basis. Keep your ears open for music coming from any and all directions, and don’t be afraid to explore a bit.
Tanya & Dorise
With Tanya on violin and Dorise on guitar, this duet is one of the most popular acts on the streets. It’s believed that Tanya was the inspiration for Annie, the fiddle-playing character on the HBO show Tremé; Dorise is equally famous for playing guitar, banjo and even a Casio keyboard strapped around her back. The two perform a variety of folk, funk, rock, pop and New Orleans classics. In just 20 minutes listeners will experience a range of music—and emotions, from joy to nostalgia and maybe even a tear during a soulful ballad.
Where to find them: Fridays-Sundays on Royal Street, often at the corner of St. Louis Street (weather permitting), from afternoon into the evening.
[READ: A Bourbon Street Music Stroll]
Sitting in front of a black, beat-up Harley Sportster motorcycle, Stoker Homeboy isn’t one for street hustling. He just minds his business while playing blues on his slide guitar, filling the air around him with unpretentious yet hauntingly gorgeous melody. The hog that serves as his background may make him seem like a menacing biker dude, but appearances are misleading. Homeboy just wants to sit in the sun and make music.
Doreen Ketchens and her family bring traditional New Orleans-style jazz to the streets of the city (as well as clubs, schools and events around the world). Doreen herself is an acclaimed, classically trained clarinet player, while husband Lawrence plays the tuba, trombone and piano. The newest member of the band is their daughter, Dorian Ketchens-Dixon, who plays the drums. Once you hear “Lady Clarinet” belting out beautiful and inspiring music from a few blocks over, you’ll track the source and want to stay all afternoon.
Where to find them: Thursday-Sunday, from 11 am to 3 pm, at Royal and St. Peter streets, in front of Rouses.
Jackson Square Allstars
Kenny Terry plays trumpet and leads a band of rotating musicians called the Jackson Square Allstars, including regulars from several well-known local bands, such as Glen Andrews and Mark “Tuba” Smith. Malcolm Morris is always there with his bass drum, and Rickey Paulin (of the Paulin Brothers Brass Band) is a regular on clarinet. If it’s foot-tapping brass band music you’re looking for, this is the group to find.
Where to find them: In front of the Cabildo at Jackson Square “most days” between 11 am and 3 pm.
Joe Sheldo is a guy with a guitar who has a style that’s not exactly easy to describe. It’s a mix of avant-garde, alt-country, pop, folk, punk rock and psychedelia. It’s haunting and toe-tapping, often simultaneously. You’ll want to listen to more than one tune in order to appreciate the talent, creativity and diverse sound Shedlo creates.
Where to find him: On the corner of Royal and Conti streets, by the Louisiana Supreme Courthouse steps.
This nine-piece band stays true to its busking roots, even though they’ve scored plenty of gigs and accolades for their jazz ensemble music. Wherever they go, they attract people who are drawn to their classic jazz and blues riffs that waft through the French Quarter. Tuba Skinny utilizes the clarinet, trombone and cornet to anchor their music and improvise from there, connecting with the emotion behind the music with the addition of soulful vocals.
Where to find them: The Royal Street pedestrian mall on Friday and Monday afternoons.