Like a lot of people, I don’t especially like the French Quarter in New Orleans.
When I was in college I worked on Bourbon and Decatur streets (don’t ask where), and grew weary of visitors flashing their breasts for crappy beads. It felt like the entire Quarter was determined to behave badly in ways that I really did not want to witness.
As I walked to work, I used to sneer at the lines of sweaty, Hand-Grenade-holding tourists stretching down St. Peter as they waited to get in to Preservation Hall. It seemed the height of New Orleans tourist-trap hucksterism: expensive tickets to a charming vision of New Orleans that no longer existed, and maybe never did. Didn’t they know that the real New Orleans was better sought elsewhere? Suckers.
20+ years later and my husband and son are both jazz musicians. Though we’ve searched and searched, Preservation Hall is one of the few French Quarter music venues that my 15 year old son can get into without hassle or bribery (there are a few others…he’s tall and reasonably cool. shhhh.) So on a recent trip to New Orleans we all headed downtown for a Sunday night show. This is how I found myself leaning against the bricks on St. Peter, clutching a Hurricane from Pat O’s and awaiting entry to the teeny, run-down music hall.
The website says to arrive 30 minutes early, so we did, and there were already 10+ people in line. Promptly at 8pm we were greeted at the door by a lovely woman who seemed more museum docent than club hostess, and ushered into the intimate performance room. There was some seating, but we chose the thin, red floor pillows second row from the stage. Cross-legged, we sat like kindergartners in the library waiting for story-time.
The band came in all natty and cool, and they got right to playing traditional jazz (the kind of jazz even people who ‘don’t like jazz’ will probably like) you’d be charged twice as much to hear in Chicago or Seattle. There was some banter, a guest musician or two, and at some point the bandleader invited us to get up and dance.
Perhaps it was the Sunday night crowd, or the large wary-but-sweet group of international visitors, but he had no immediate takers. Grinning at my husband, I clambered to my feet with my son shaking his head but rising to dance beside me.
After the show was over we left bouncing, with my husband and son wishing they had brought their horns so they could play out on the street, and we headed off to eat at Cane & Table.
Rather than feeling like a tourist, Preservation Hall reminded me of why I first moved to New Orleans, why I kept my 504 phone number when I moved away, and why I don’t generally admit to being a visitor when I’m down there.
I love New Orleans. It’s the greatest city in the world. And maybe the French Quarter isn’t that bad.
In case you need more convincing:
- Website: http://www.preservationhall.com/hall/
- Tickets: $15-$20 cash only
- Shows: 5pm, 6pm, 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm nightly
General admission is fine here unless you are someone/with someone who needs guaranteed seating. Also, photos are absolutely not allowed after the band enters the room, and they are quite comfortable yelling at anyone who thinks this rule doesn’t apply to them.