If the world needs anything right now, it’s music.
When global shutdowns began back in March, a quarantined man in Florence, Italy took to his balcony, and he sang. The video of his exquisite performance went viral. It connected viewers around the world and conveyed a message of hope just as the novel coronavirus began to creep across borders and oceans.
It also reminded viewers, as they were forced to press stop on the lives they knew, that listening to someone sing from their balcony was simple yet incredibly meaningful. It was art in its purest form, emerging from a place of raw emotion, reminding us that music is cathartic and transcendent. And it has been such for ages.
So, as we know, many live events are on hold right now, but the way music has long influenced a particular place is still evident. A few musically inclined destinations are sharing how they were inspired by music—and how they’ll continue to inspire in a post-COVID world.
New Orleans, Louisiana
“The New Orleans soundtrack is the product of many voices: Africa, Sicily, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, and Central America,” says New Orleans & Company’s Olivia Celata. “Music is ingrained in our gumbo of a culture and used to celebrate life, death, and everything in between.”
It’s almost like being inside a musical when visitors stroll down Frenchmen Street; live music from streetside performers fill the Marigny neighborhood’s main artery with sounds of the past and present—from jazz and blues to reggae and rock. The often-spontaneous concerts are tell-tale of Frenchmen Street, as are well-known clubs like the Spotted Cat and Blue Nile where crowds gather for live shows.
Music clubs are a staple throughout the city. Visitors could spend almost three months in New Orleans and drop by a different one every night, according to the DMO’s website. A lengthy list of musical genres—from traditional jazz and blues to rap and R&B—can be heard from club to club as guests are invited in to dance, eat, and drink.
Music is also a historical pillar in every celebration and event in New Orleans. Although the creation of jazz is unclear (ALL of the stories are fascinating, particularly that jazz stemmed from Voodoo ritual drumming that took place in Congo Square pre-Civil War), we know for a fact that it originated in New Orleans. The city was also the birthplace of musicians like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Harry Connick Jr.
The history is alive in the streets, quite often in the form of a second line (a parade led by a jubilant grand marshal), and many of these spectacles are held in honor of a newly married couple or a person who’s passed away. Visitors can spot the Mardi Gras Indians, an 1800s-era subculture that formed when Native Americans shielded runaway slaves. Donning wildly ornate and colorful suits and performing call-and-response chanting with percussion instruments, the many tribes always participate in Mardi Gras, Super Sunday, and St. Joseph Day, and can be seen frequently at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Speaking of festivals, there are so many that honor music and the arts in the city. Here are a few that are set to march on in 2021:
- BUKU – March 19–20
- French Quarter Festival – April 8–11
- New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – weekends of April 22–May 2
- Voodoo Music + Arts Experience – October 29–31
“When it comes time for you to return, we'll safely welcome you with the same excitement and warmth that we always have,” Celata says. “If you are currently admiring New Orleans from afar, we encourage you to explore all the ways that you can bring New Orleans into your own homes, from streaming concerts to a New Orleans feel-good playlist.”
Los Angeles, California
As the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles is a bustling music hub, from the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall—home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale—to the Troubadour, the small nightclub with a big history of nurturing the hopes and dreams of aspiring artists.
“Los Angeles has always been a mecca for music lovers and for visitors who dream of exploring the famed neighborhoods featured in popular songs that have become soundtracks to their own lives,” says the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board’s Kathryn Smits.
Ever since Bing Crosby famously crooned in 1944 that he would make the San Fernando Valley his home, Smits says, Los Angeles has had a prominent role in popular music, whether it be rock (Led Zeppelin's "Going to California"), surf (Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA," which plugs LA hotspots like Pacific Palisades and Redondo Beach), swing (Frank Sinatra's "LA Is My Lady"), funk (Kool & the Gang's "Hollywood Swingin' "), alternative (Tom Waits' "Heart Attack and Vine"), soul (War's "Low Rider"), punk (X's "Los Angeles"), or hip-hop (NWA's "Straight Outta Compton").
“In addition to the music history that LA boasts, the city is also home to some of the country’s best outdoor music venues and events that will keep you in the groove,” Smits says.
And those outdoor venues are wonderful places to patronize for live shows, as LA has beautiful weather year-round. Here are just a few of the go-to spots to experience the eclectic musical cultures LA is known for:
- One of the leading venues is the historical Greek Theatre, opened in 1929 and nestled into a tree-laden hillside in Griffith Park with state-of-the-art acoustics in an intimate concert setting.
- The Hollywood Bowl is the largest natural amphitheater in the U.S., hosting a slew of events throughout the year. Some of the music legends that have performed there since its early 20th-century opening include Pink Floyd, Elton John, Ben Harper, and John Legend. Its summer seasons are packed with performances from classical to pop, and Smits says to bring a picnic when attending events.
- Ford Theatres, another venue loved by many generations, has seen jazz quartets, all-female mariachi groups, and electronic artists.
2021 is a beacon of hope for the return of events and festivals, and here are some Smits says music lovers can look forward to:
- The Getty Center's annual outdoor summer series, Off the 405, which includes performances by up-and-coming bands, along with DJ sets to open and close the night.
- The popular Sunset Concerts at the Skirball Cultural Center featuring both emerging and established talent.
- Twilight on the Pier, a weekly outdoor music festival at the landmark Santa Monica Pier with talented artists from SoCal and around the world.
- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art highlighting the art of jazz as practiced by leading Southern California artists.
“From the musicians and visionaries, historical venues and nightclubs to live festivals and events that ignite the city, music beats in the heart of Calgary,” says Tourism Calgary’s Shaniece MacNeill. “Local musicians thrive here, and out-of-town artists find their footing with the support of Calgary's dynamic music community.”
Calgary’s Music Mile is made up of venues where live music plays every day of the week. Each venue is diverse, with the famous mile stretching from the historical neighborhood of Inglewood to the trendy East Village.
Ironwood Stage & Grill is a 14-year mainstay of Music Mile, and it’s a spot that’s cultivated artists in many genres—from jazz and blues to rock and country—in a way that Nashville’s Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge has done. Inglewood’s Recordland is lined wall-to-wall with vinyl records—close to a million of them.
With musical history threaded throughout the city within its unique clubs and dive bars (like the downtown basement coffeehouse where folk legend Joni Mitchell got her start), Calgary also knows how to celebrate music in a big, loud way: through its festivals.
“A collection of artists from across the globe come to Calgary to share their worldly talents at the Calgary Folk Music Festival,” MacNeill says. “And the country legends that light up the Calgary Stampede are joined by indie rockers and rap artists for more than just a Western-themed celebration, and it’s the largest music festival in Canada.”
Described as one of the most magical weekends in the city, the Calgary Folk Music Festival forged on during the pandemic this year with a successful at-home version. It’s scheduled to return to its former glory as an in-person event next year in July with a variety of musical acts taking the stage in Prince’s Island Park.
The Calgary Stampede has set its post-cancellation comeback for July 9–18, 2021. MacNeill says it’s the “greatest outdoor show on Earth,” rounding out 10 days with (normally) over 1 million attendees watching one of the world’s largest outdoor rodeos, as well as more than 300 performers on five different stages. The kickoff parade showcases 750 horses, 30 marching bands, 40 floats, and more than 4,000 people.
Past musical performances include names like Luke Bryan, Sheryl Crow, Garth Brooks, and Katy Perry, and visitors also see the long-established Stampede Showband as well as rising stars in the industry. Of course, there’s some incredible festival food (think BBQ and mac & cheese-stuffed burgers) as well as other activities and shows designed to preserve the Western way of life. And each night ends with a spectacular fireworks show. Contact Lindsay Jardine for more info or go to calgarystampede.com.
Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, is a must-see attraction, as it illuminates 450 years of Canada’s music scene through more than 2,000 pieces of memorabilia.
“The largest piece of the living collection, The Rolling Stones Mobile Recording Studio, was used to record many legendary albums by The Rolling Stones themselves, as well as by artists like Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and Neil Young. And it’s still used to record albums today,” MacNeill says.
Music will reign long after the pandemic passes. And as the man on the balcony in Florence sang “Vincerò!” (“I will be victorious”) at the end of the aria, it was a reminder not only of the boundlessness of music, but also that we will prevail as a people with a heart for travel.
Top photo: New Orleans musicians
Photo by New Orleans & Company