Maybe music pirates had the right idea. You don't have to look too hard to find a free or cheap show in New Orleans. Any corner on almost any street is a good place to start, and everyone knows Frenchmen Street offers a bounty of free (or dirt cheap) shows. Wander into The Saint (961 St. Mary St., 523-0050; www.thesaintneworleans.com) any night of the week and you'll likely bump into a free show — a DJ (or several), rock bands or bounce rappers.
Upstairs at Blue Nile (532 Frenchmen St., 948-2583; www.bluenilelive.com), catch the Open Ears music series every Tuesday at 10 p.m. Jazz artists like Sasha Masakowski, Helen Gillet, Aurora Nealand and James Singleton perform improvised and experimental sets — with an "open" door policy. Performances are recorded and available at www.openearsmusic.org (also for free).
Don't have the dough for a premier gig at your favorite club? Throughout the summer, Tipitina's (501 Napoleon Ave., 895-8477; www.tipitinas.com) hosts a Free Friday series, featuring performances by bands like To Be Continued Brass Band, Supagroup, Good Enough for Good Times, New Orleans Bingo! Show, Honey Island Swamp Band and Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes. Every Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Tipitina's also opens for a free all-ages music workshop, where artists instruct (and play alongside) aspiring musicians.
On the West Bank, hear free music at Wednesdays on the Point (Algiers Ferry Dock, 200 Morgan St.; www.wednesdaysonthepoint.com) series, through Aug. 10. This week, find soul singer Luther Kent. Next month: Bonerama, Stooges Brass Band, Wild Magnolias, Irvin Mayfield, Amanda Shaw and others. Tip: The Algiers Ferry is free for pedestrians, so leave the car at home. The ferry leaves the Canal Street dock 15 and 45 minutes after each hour; it leaves Algiers at the top and middle of each hour.
Impress your friends or treat your parents: At New Orleans City Park, the Thursdays at Twilight series invites you to spend a little ($8 admission) and get a lot — sip mint juleps (from the cash bar) in the Botanical Garden and listen to artists like Washboard Chaz, the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra, the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans and the Pfister Sisters (performing this week).
Louisiana Music Factory's (210 Decatur St., 586-1094; www.louisianamusicfactory.com) free in-store performances begin every Saturday at 2 p.m. (Joyful USA and Sasha Masakowski close the store's June lineup.)
Put on your dancing shoes. There are free dance parties (hosted by Tony Skratchere, DJ Jubilee and others) upstairs at Maison (508 Frenchmen St., 371-5543; www.maisonfrenchmen.com) at 10 p.m. every Saturday.
Need to learn to get down? Take dance lessons with NOLA Jitterbugs — check the group's website (www.nolajitterbugs.org) for schedules and locations. The Jitterbugs offer three free swing dancing and Lindy Hop lessons a month. At Chickie Wah Wah (2828 Canal St., 304-4714; www.chickiewahwah.com), the group offers lessons for $5 every Thursday beginning at 6 p.m.
In August, look for the Satchmo SummerFest (www.fqfi.org/satchmosummerfest) at Louisiana State Museum's Old U.S. Mint. The free music festival held Aug. 4-7 marks its 11th year, with dozens of bands paying tribute to trumpeter Louis Armstrong.