New Orleans doesn't have to rely on music festivals or arena tours to produce a year's worth of highlights, but our festivals and arena tours are pretty good, too.
The city's annual crowning musical event, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, marked the return of rock 'n' roll's go-to inspiring savior Bruce Springsteen, who brought along the E-Street Band for a show-stopping two-hour, 24-song set, with a tribute to the city (where he also was the star of the 2006 festival) and the late Clarence Clemons.
The Foo Fighters also performed, and a few months later, the band announced a hiatus, so New Orleans got one of the last glimpses of the band.
In October, the 14th annual Voodoo Experience replaced Green Day, which canceled when singer Billie Joe Armstrong checked in to rehab, with Metallica, but dubstep patriarch Skrillex and Neil Young (reunited with Crazy Horse) stole the weekend.
The electronic and hip-hop-focused festival BUKU Music + Art Project debuted in March with an impressive rookie lineup. Its 2013 return will cast Kendrick Lamar, Passion Pit and Primus among its headliners.
It also was a year of comebacks: Wu-Tang Clan, Roky Erickson, R. Stevie Moore, Fiona Apple, Guided By Voices, Anvil, Jesus and Mary Chain, Sade and DJ Shadow all made stops in New Orleans after long hiatuses.
The Circle Bar also made its comeback in January after renovation delays — but in August, it pulled the plug on live music when the city found it lacked proper permits. Siberia, Mimi's in the Marigny and others also joined a list of music venues without live entertainment permits. Kermit Ruffins organized a response to what was dubbed the city's "war on music" — Circle Bar and Mimi's quickly returned to presenting live music and and after Siberia went through a months-long rezoning and permit process it also resumed its weekly schedule. Ruffins' weekly open meetings with musicians, club owners and music fans spawned the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans, which meets noon Wednesdays at Ruffins' Speakeasy in Treme to tackle permit issues and noise ordinances and help navigate the city's musical and cultural bureaucracy.
In February, Rebirth Brass Band took home its first Grammy at the 54th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles for 2011's Rebirth of New Orleans. The band also picked up the 2012 Entertainer of the Year award at the Big Easy Awards in April.
A Big Easy special recognition award went to New Orleans Airlift for The Music Box, Bywater's now-dismantled musical architecture project on Piety Street, which hosted artists from Michael Zerang, Hamid Drake, Andrew WK and Thurston Moore to downtown stalwarts Quintron, Walt McClements, Helen Gillet and Aurora Nealand. The unconventional concerts attracted national attention, and the group now is focused on the next step, Dithyrambalina, a "musical house."
Ted Riederer's Never Records also merged unconventional art with music — his month-long installation looked like an independent record store and performance space, where dozens of New Orleans artists played live and recorded straight to vinyl. Riederer cut two copies on the spot, one for the artist and one for the project archive.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band celebrated its 50th anniversary with a star-studded performance at Carnegie Hall in January with Allen Toussaint, GIVERS, My Morning Jacket and Trombone Shorty, among others. It also released a retrospective box set. Among other notable local album releases, multi-instrumentalist Theresa Andersson released the Mardi Gras-inspired Street Parade, the follow-up to her acclaimed Hummingbird, Go!. Mardi Gras also inspired Carnivale Electricos from funk heavyweights Galactic. Dr. John paired with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach for Locked Down, which earned a 2013 Grammy nomination for Best Blues Album. (New Orleans-raised Frank Ocean grabbed six nominations, including Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Album of the Year.)
Rapper Curren$y dropped his major label debut The Stoned Immaculate and debuted a weekly show, "Jet Lounge," at House of Blues. Also in rap: rapid-flowing Mystikal returned from a brief prison stint for violating parole and released the track "Hit Me."
After a decade as the emcee of New Orleans' hip-hop nucleus for up-and-coming performers, rapper Truth Universal ended the monthly hip-hop showcase Grassroots this month, but it might return as an annual festival-styled event.
Rap label Cash Money announced a confusing wild card addition to its hit factory lineup: nu-metal rap-rockers Limp Bizkit. In July, former labelmate B.G. was sentenced to 14 years for two counts of felony possession of a firearm and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Glen David Andrews also faced legal and personal battles — Andrews was charged with attempted murder, among other offenses, following an argument with his girlfriend. He entered a three-month rehab program in July, and the now-sober performer continues weekly gigs.
2012 also continued the national obsession with bounce, from self-styled queen diva Big Freedia on Jimmy Kimmel Live and the viral success of Mr. Ghetto, who took on The Lion King and Looney Tunes. In-demand producer Diplo tapped Nicky Da B for his bounce-inspired hit "Express Yourself."
Funk pioneers The Meters were nominated for entry into the 2013 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but were denied entry.
Last month at the Mahalia Jackson Theater, New Orleans artists performed at the city-organized NOLA: Pay it Forward concert to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy.
2012 was not without loss: Treme Brass Band drummer "Uncle" Lionel Batiste died July 8 at age 81. Bob French, Original Tuxedo Jazz Band bandleader and WWOZ-FM DJ, died Nov. 12, at age 74.