I was just thinking about my next trip there!
As mentioned, head to Frenchmen for some good music. There are several clubs and you can hear most of the music on the street (be sure and hit the Apple Barrel). Checkpoints is right on the corner of Esplanade, and the Balcony Music Club is just across the street. This area’s not bad, but you do want to keep your eyes open. Further up Decatur is The Kerry. Small Irish pub with free live music on most nights (say hi to Gill, seriously). It’s right near the House of Blues who sometimes features free local acts in their Voodoo Lounge. All the places mentioned feature mostly local musicians and no top 40 type stuff (that’s all on Bourbon…which you should avoid at all costs). You can find some Zydeco, but it’s not from that part of the state. I think Mulate’s features nightly Zydeco.
On Thursday night you can cab to the Bywater area and see Kermit Ruffins play at Vaughan’s (call and make sure he’s in town). This used to be really cool, but since it’s been featured on HBO’s Treme, it’s crowded, touristy, and more expensive (still fun though). BJ’s is nearby and usually has bands (you’ll be in locals territory).
The Maple Leaf (way uptown) is always fun, and there are a few other places nearby if you head that way.
As for drinking, hit the Erin Rose on Conti. It’s a fun little Irish pub just off of Bourbon, with cool owners, great bartenders and an awesome jukebox. They also have good food. It’s a good mix of tourists and locals. I have the most fun here earlier in the evening. Molly’s (at the Market) is usually fun as are about 700 other places.
Have fun and be careful. Even though you’re from a big city, New Orleans is different. It can lull you into this good time, but there’s always trouble close by. That said, I’ve never had any real problems, so don’t worry. It’s a cab town, so take those when possible. Most bartenders will call one for you, but take the number for United Cab with you.