July 4th in New Orleans

With performances by Usher, Mary J. Blige, and tons of other big name national acts, Essence Fest is the hottest ticket in town this weekend.

If you can’t make it out to the Superdome this time, however, there are plenty of other ways to celebrate Independence Day in and around town:

Kick the weekend off early in a municipality where you can still smoke. The unbeatable Old Arabi Bar, a music-friendly neighborhood joint just over the St. Bernard Parish line, hosts Dickapalooza, a birthday bash in celebration of its resident blues-rocker, country singer, and occasional punk rock delinquent Richard “Dick Deluxe” Egner. (When not jamming in the Parish, you can find him gigging with his band SweetDeluxe at the Marigny Brasserie on Sunday nights, and at various other venues around town.)

There’s no cover, and there’s bound to be plenty of food to soak up some of the booze flow.

Those familiar with the Old Arabi’s Monday Night Blues Jam will recognize plenty of the usual suspects and can expect killer music from Mike Darby (who’ll be performing at the bar on July 4th with his band The House of Cards), the great Irene Sage, Dick himself, and more. Expect surprise performances and the usual drunken debauchery. Not necessarily in that order.

For a change of pace the following day, the Marine Corps Band of New Orleans performs at the Goldring/Woldenberg Great Lawn the evening of July 3rd, with fireworks at 9 p.m. to follow. Over in Metairie, you’ll find the Uncle Sam Jam at Lafreniere Park. The patriotic outdoor gathering features live music starting at noon, with performances by Josh Turner, Lonestar, Courtney Cole, and others. There’ll be a slew of food and beverage vendors and fireworks beginning around 9 p.m. Admission is free.

On Independence Day itself, there are plenty of options, but the Dueling Barges Fireworks Show is one of our favorites. Beginning at 9 p.m., two barges in the middle of the Mississippi River will try to outdo each other in what is recognized as one of the “top 5 must-see fireworks displays in America” by the American Pyrotechnics Association.

The spectacle is visible from both sides of the river. On the French Quarter side, the best views are from Woldenberg Park and from Crescent Park, which will be open until midnight for the occasion. It can also be seen from Algiers Point, which is accessible by the Canal St. Ferry.

For an even closer look, reserve a cruise on the Natchez or Creole Queen. Both steamboats will be offer evening fireworks with dinner and live entertainment. To make reservations for the Creole Queen, call (504) 529-4567. For the Natchez call (504) 569-1401.

If you want to start your riverbound revelry early on the 4th, come out beforehand to catch the General Roy S. Kelley’s appearance at 6 p.m.. This fireboat, which was used by the Port of New Orleans to fight fires, give tours, and conduct search-and-rescue missions, will give a water show on the Mississippi River with plumes of red, white, and blue fountains.

Be on the look out for various after parties and other shows by Essence artists after hours (Erykah Badu will DJ at Tipitina’s the night of the 4th, for instance), and keep in mind that the Audubon Institute is offering discounted tickets to the aquarium, insectarium, and customs house throughout the weekend (July 2-5).