We spent several days in New Orleans with no plans, except for our parade. We managed to check out a fair amount of bars and restaurants and went to see where they make the Mardi Gras floats but that still left plenty of time. On our first full day in town, we stopped by one of the places where you don’t need to have a reservation to experience something that’s classic New Orleans. We headed to St. Peter Street and got in line to wait to see some classic jazz at Preservation Hall.
726 St. Peters St., New Orleans, LA 70116
Here’s a description of the venue and why it was formed, from Preservation Hall’s website:
New Orleans’ Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to honor one of America’s truest art forms – Traditional New Orleans Jazz. Operating as a music venue, a touring band, and a non-profit organization, Preservation Hall continues its mission today as a cornerstone of New Orleans music and culture.
The interesting thing about going to see a show at Preservation Hall is that you don’t necessarily know who you’re going to see in the band. You can check out the list of performers on the website but most days there will be shows by the “Preservation Hall All Stars”:
Every night, Preservation Hall presents intimate, acoustic concerts featuring ensembles made up from a current collective of 100+ local master Traditional New Orleans Jazz practitioners. These master musicians have learned the traditional style from the greats that played before them at Preservation Hall. The Preservation All Stars feature some of those master veteran musicians. With a line-up changing week to week, the Preservation All Stars provide an ever-evolving take on the New Orleans Jazz tradition.
Not to fear, the All Stars include some of the legends of New Orleans Jazz. Now if you really want to get a ticket for a show and don’t like to stand in line, you can purchase a “Big Shot Reserved Seat” that goes anywhere from $35 to $50. If you’re like everyone else, you’ll stand outside in line, grab a drink from a nearby bar (we were total tourists and went to Pat O’Brien’s, which is right next door) and wait for the show.
General Admission tickets are $20 at the door, cash only. Preservation Hall is open every night, with concerts at 5pm, 6pm, 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm, with the exception of certain holidays and special events. You can check out the calendar at their website.
I’d been warned about seating at Preservation Hall. There were cushions to sit on the floor at the front of the room, a series of benches behind those and then standing room at the back. There were also benches against the wall. We ended up in the last row of benches and still had a good view. Since you’re there for the music, there’s not a bad seat (or space) in the house, as the hall is the size of a small storefront.
Once the crowd was all in place, the band took the stage. They wasted no time and jumped right into the classic Jambalaya. I have no video or pictures of the band since they have a strict no-camera policy during the show. You should be there to enjoy and experience the music, so they request that do you so. For the most part, the audience followed the instructions since it was all too easy to fall into the trance when listening to some of the best jazz music I’ve ever heard.
It wasn’t long before the band pointed the sign on the back wall:
- Traditional Request $5.00
- Others $10.00
- Saints $20.00
It only took until the second request for the bachelorette party seated against the wall to offer $40 to hear “When The Saints Come Marching In” and the band was more than happy to oblige. While I’ve heard the song plenty of times, it was different hearing it in New Orleans. I learned quickly that any song becomes a sing-along in New Orleans when the band starts into “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say they gonna beat dem Saints?”
The 45-minute set went by in a flash. Listening to this music in such an intimate setting felt like New Orleans reaching out to give me a huge hug and welcome me to the city. And in case you didn’t know, New Orleans is a really good hugger.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary
Featured Photo by Darren Cowley on Flickr