“Mardi Gras music” is generally defined as the time-honored standards of the Carnival season: “Mardi Gras Mambo,” “Carnival Time,” “Go to the Mardi Gras,” “Second Line Pt. 1,” “Big Chief,” “Do Whatcha Wanna,” etc. But this weekend in New Orleans, any live music is “Mardi Gras music.” From parade routes to block parties to the wee hours in nightclubs and music venues, the good times will roll to a soundtrack as diverse as the city itself.

Here’s a guide to the sounds of Carnival time:

Maceo Parker

11 p.m. Friday, Tipitina’s, $35

Is there a living saxophonist with a more impressive funk resume than Maceo Parker? He made key contributions to recordings and/or tours by James Brown in the 1960s, Parliament/Funkadelic in the 1970s, and Prince in the 2000s. He anchored Brown’s JB Horns on such classic albums as “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “Sex Machine.” With George Clinton and P-Funk, he lit up “Mothership Connection” and more. Prince recruited Parker for “Musicology,” “3121” and other latter-day albums. For the past 20 years, Parker has also toured and recorded with his own ultratight band. They hit Tipitina’s on Friday; local alternative cellist Helen Gillet is also on the bill.

Big Freedia and Sweet Crude

10 p.m. Saturday, One Eyed Jacks, $35

In what has become a newfangled Carnival weekend tradition, Big Freedia, the ever-colorful Queen of Bounce, shares a bill with Sweet Crude, the ambitious local modern rock band that alternates English and French lyrics. Reality TV star Freedia taught the world to twerk. She and her dance team are outrageous on a normal night; imagine what might be in store Mardi Gras weekend. Freedia canceled some recent shows in the wake of her brother’s death, but is ready to get back to work for what will be a big weekend (she returns to One Eyed Jacks on Sunday). Sweet Crude is fronted by powerhouse vocalist Alexis Marceaux; she and her bandmates are influenced by everything from Fleetwood Mac to the music of southwest Louisiana. Sweet Crude is also at One Eyed Jacks on Friday.

Shovels & Rope

11 p.m. Sunday, Tipitina’s, $27

Shovels & Rope husband and wife duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst will bring a hootenanny to Carnival. Together, they deploy guitars, harmonicas and a stomping style of percussion to make modern-day Appalachian music, equal parts folk, rock ‘n’ roll and old-school country. Their lyrics occasionally have a historical bent; the song “Thresher” was inspired by the 1963 sinking of the nuclear attack submarine USS Thresher. Indicative of their diversity, in New Orleans they’ve performed at both the Americana-leaning Hogs for the Cause and the rock/rap/EDM-focused Voodoo Experience. They’ll headline the Sunday night blowout at Tipitina’s following the Bacchus parade, a job Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue previously held for nine consecutive years.

Alexey Marti

8 and 10 p.m. Sunday, Snug Harbor, $15

Percussionist Alexey Marti moved from one highly musical city to another. A native of Havana, he came to New Orleans to study jazz at the University of New Orleans. His Afro-Cuban hand-drumming skills won him first place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute’s competition. During his years in New Orleans, he has performed with a variety of ensembles, fusing modern New Orleans jazz with rumba and other styles he brought with him from Cuba. The speed with which his hands work the congas is as impressive as the structure he maintains within those rhythms.

Big Gigantic

10 p.m. Sunday, Joy Theater, $27.50-$40

Big Gigantic is an instrumental duo whose electronic music draws heavily from jazz and hip-hop and is enhanced by an immersive production highlighted by an ever-evolving light show. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Big Gigantic consists of saxophonist/producer Dominic Lalli and drummer Jeremy Salken. Their most recent album, “Brighter Future,” is available in a predominantly teal tie-dyed vinyl version. They’re a favorite on the festival circuit, having appeared everywhere from Coachella to Hangout to Bonnaroo. Every September since 2012, they’ve presided over their own popular Rowdytown festival at Red Rocks Amphitheater, not far from their base in Boulder. They bring their Got the Love Tour to the Joy Theater on Sunday; Shallou and Dino Brawl are also on the bill.



Brassy jam band Lettuce and The Motet are at the Joy Theater.

Guitarists John Rankin and Todd Duke team up for what should be a relatively chill duet at Snug Harbor.


In a double bill that shows off two of the best contemporary New Orleans bands, the R&B/funk/spoken-word combo Tank & the Bangas is paired with Sweet Crude at One Eyed Jacks.

Heavily percussive Mardi Gras Indian funk band Cha Wa is augmented by the legendary Big Chief Monk Boudreaux at d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street.

The Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band fires up at The Howlin’ Wolf.

Topsy Chapman & Solid Harmony sing blues, R&B, gospel and more at Snug Harbor.


The Topcats, Groovy 7 and the Bucktown Allstars entertain the large crowd awaiting Endymion on the Orleans Avenue neutral ground for the pre-parade Samedi Gras. The show concludes just before the parade rolls at 4:15.

Galactic takes over Tipitina’s for the first of two big shows over the long weekend.

Mardi Gras Indian funk band Cha Wa fires up at the Maple Leaf.

Naughty Professor holds class at the Blue Nile.

Master New Orleans drummer Herlin Riley powers a jazz combo at Snug Harbor.

The Rebirth Brass Band returns to The Howlin’ Wolf, this time with Sexual Thunder.

Biz Markie deejays a post-parade party at the House of Blues, with help from local favorite DJ Soul Sister.


The super-krewe Bacchus closes out the Sunday parades on the Uptown route and hosts the all-day Bacchus Bash at Generations Hall (310 Andrew Higgins Drive) in the Warehouse District. Admission is free; VIP open-bar tickets are available. Scheduled entertainment includes Flow Tribe and the Topcats outside and DJ Mannie Fresh inside.

Guitarist Anders Osborne hosts a “Mardi Gras Mayhem” throwdown at the House of Blues with special guests George Porter Jr. on bass, Dave Malone of the Radiators on guitar, David Torkanowsky on keyboards and Stanton Moore of Galactic on drums.

Tank & the Bangas joins forces with Big Freedia at One Eyed Jacks; tickets are $40.

Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & the Golden Eagles conjure the Carnival spirit at d.b.a.

The Maple Leaf presents keyboardist Joe Krown’s Trio featuring Walter “Wolfman” Washington at 8, followed at 11 p.m. by the Lost Bayou Ramblers, the genre-bending contemporary Cajun band that recently won its first Grammy Award.

The ever-funky Dumpstaphunk throws down in the main room of The Howlin’ Wolf while the Hot 8 Brass Band is in the venue’s smaller space, the Den.


On Lundi Gras, Harry Connick Jr.’s musically themed Krewe of Orpheus rolls. Not surprisingly, Lundi Gras is a far more musical Monday than anywhere else in the world.

Orpheus concludes inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center with the Orpheuscapade. In honor of New Orleans’ 300th anniversary celebration, the music roster is all local: Trombone Shorty, Deacon John, Irma Thomas, Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, Amanda Shaw, the Dixie Cups, Big Freedia, Bonerama, Flow Tribe and more. Tickets are $179 in advance or $199 at the door.

The free Zulu Lundi Gras Festival at Woldenberg Park features the Rebirth and Original Pinettes brass bands, Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers, DJ Jubilee, Amanda Shaw and more, from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Galactic is back at Tipitina’s, with Naughty Professor opening.

Big Freedia hosts a free Lundi Gras party at the Three Keys venue inside the Ace Hotel at 9 p.m.

The New Orleans Suspects powers through a set of swampy blues-funk at the Maple Leaf.

The “Lundi Gras Funksplosion” at d.b.a. features Cyril Neville & Swamp Funk plus the Fuel.

Charmaine Neville is at Snug Harbor, as she is most Mondays.

Mad scientist musical innovator Quintron and his puppeteer partner Miss Pussycat host their annual Lundi Gras revue at One Eyed Jacks.

The Hot 8 Brass Band holds court in the Den of The Howlin’ Wolf.

Hip-hop heavy brass band the Soul Rebels fires up at the Blue Nile for an 11 p.m. set, followed by 3 a.m. Gravity A show for folks who want to keep on rolling right into Mardi Gras morning.


On Mardi Gras, official and unofficial marching groups will fill the city’s streets with sound. With so much free music out and about, Fat Tuesday is actually a relatively quiet day/night in the clubs.

The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars play their annual afternoon set at d.b.a., starting at 3 p.m. The Treme Brass Band follows at d.b.a. around 9 p.m.

At the Hi-Ho Lounge on St. Claude Avenue, Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes and Big Chief David Montana of the Washitaw Nation Mardi Gras Indian tribe lead the Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra, which rearranges traditional Mardi Gras Indian music for a large ensemble. Players include guitarists Jake Eckert and Billy Iuso, reed player Brad Walker, cellist Helen Gillet, violinist Rurick Nunan, drummer Eric Bolivar, percussionist Rosie Rosato, keyboardist CR Gruver and bassist Reggie Scanlan. They'll play three sets starting at 4 p.m.

Trombone-powered funk/rock band Bonerama does a free Mardi Gras show at Three Keys inside the Ace Hotel, starting around 6 p.m.

The Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street has free music all afternoon and evening, starting with the Jefferson Street Parade Band at 2, the Fessters at 5 p.m., and funk/R&B band Waterseed at 9 p.m. Also at the Blue Nile, guitarist Stephen Kelly of Gravy fronts an all-star band in the Balcony Room starting at 3 p.m.

Rapper Yo Gotti of “Rake It Up” fame headlines the Saenger Theatre.

As they have for years, members of the Rebirth Brass Band will close out Carnival — and usher in the wee hours of Ash Wednesday — at the Maple Leaf.


Ash Wednesday is typically a day of repentance and recovery. That said, live music is still available if you didn’t get your fill during Carnival’s home stretch.

Swing into Lent with trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis & the Uptown Jazz Orchestra at Snug Harbor.

The Tin Men play a free 7 p.m. show at d.b.a., followed by guitarist Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters at 10.

And Rock ‘n’ Bowl hosts “Sing Like a Star” karaoke with a live band.

Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.

Keith Spera writes about music, culture and his kids.