Sonali Fernando is the cultural engineer at Ace Hotel New Orleans, where she oversees the hotel’s dedicated music venue, Three Keys—home to the annual music and culture festival Six of Saturns. Held during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival each spring, Six of Saturns hosts a diverse lineup of up-and-coming performers alongside beloved icons.
Originally from Garland, Texas and a first-generation Sri Lankan-American, Fernando first came to New Orleans 17 years ago for the Music Industry Studies program at Loyola University. After Katrina, she felt driven to stay in the city, working as a bartender, musician, cultural arts educator, artist manager, party promoter, restaurant owner, and even bike delivery girl before landing the cultural engineer role at the Ace Hotel.
“The New Orleans music scene is unique and special because our music is a living, driving force of the city,” says Fernando. “The inheritors of this legacy have always continued to push the needle forward—from Cash Money and No Limit to the very artists we’ve booked for Six of Saturns like DJ Soul Sister, Pell, Chase N. Cashe, and many others.”
In other words, to experience music in New Orleans is to experience something that is inextricably tied to its culture. Below, Fernando shares her favorite places to see live music in the Crescent City.
Traditional jazz at its finest with the living legends of the genre. You can’t take pictures, so you’re forced to be in the moment. Who doesn’t love that?
I have been going to this place through three different owners and more iterations of myself than I care to share. Saturday nights with Set de Flo’ and Lil Jodeci and Lord Chilla are a great place to vibe out when you are looking for dance music.
A solid barroom with a great stage, great talent, and wonderful booze selection. You can listen to some of New Orleans’s finest musicians from Walter Wolfman Washington to John Boutté to Jon Cleary. Something for everyone.
Another venue I have been going to through several ownership changes. Weekends with DJ RQ Away and Legatron Prime are great for a night of dancing.
One Eyed Jacks
My favorite rock ‘n’ roll venue in town. They book all different kinds of artists. I saw Charles Bradley there and it changed my life.
The Spotted Cat
Sundays with Pat Casey and The New Sound can’t be beat. Some of the best New Orleans musicians show up and play every Sunday—just three feet away from you.
The room is so intimate, it’s impossible not to be moved by the music. There’s also a ton of daytime and early evening programming, from yoga to film screenings to tech presentations, so the space is always alive and animated with a range of public programming.