Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Orleans Stepping On It's Own Johnson Again.

Once upon a time, the French Quarter of New Orleans was vibrant and fun and every day there was sunny and bright.

But then a cloud passed over the sun in the form of a group of real-estate developers taking over the city council.
This group, led by Jackie Clarkson (pictured at right and best known for threatening to get people and their little dogs) has been waging a campaign of attrition against local street performers in Jackson Square and the Quarter for years. Their goal appears to be getting rid of the hoi polloi and turning the Quarter into a southern version of Colonial Williamsburg--a place where only the elderly rich will want--or be able to afford--to live. Not coincidentally, Jackie and her cronies own much of the French Quarter property that was once affordable apartments but which is currently being converted into high-end condominiums.

I've been around long enough to see Jackie's enforcement operations successfully target many of the street-corner performers, to include anyone wearing a mask of face paint, or daring to set up on Bourbon Street itself. She's gone after the tarot readers too, but they're organized and have a lawyer on retainer. her goal is to get rid of any such riff-raff that might scare away the octogenarian condo buyers that she's courting. Jackie doesn't care that most people come to the Quarter to see and interact with the people that she's trying to run out of town (and those people spend a lot of money locally). She's on a mission, and I've long said that if you give Jackie enough time, I can see Bourbon Street itself being suppressed and finally shut down. Then fun will be dead and we'll all be sad and blue.

Well Jackie and her goon squads have staked out another target for destruction, this one being the impromptu brass bands that play for tips in and around the Quarter. One such group, the To Be Continued Brass Band, which is made up of local school-age youth playing on their school brass band instruments in the evenings, is being threatened with jail if they play a minute past eight PM at their usual hang-out on the corner of Bourbon and Canal Streets.
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas noted that 8th District officers were merely being responsive to "numerous complaints from residents of the French Quarter" when they told the band to stop playing or risk a court summons. But band members say that silencing them won't make the already-noisy corner much quieter and could eliminate some of the last live jazz from the city's most famous tourist strip.
Now I've been listening to these kids play for the past few years and they're good. Real good. They don't look like much but they rock that street corner and draw serious crowds.They also do a good job of keeping the crowds from blocking traffic. And it is a noisy corner 24/7--it's right off Canal Street. There are also no apartments nearby--that section is all commercial so which "residents" exactly are being disturbed? Frankly the only ones I can see complaining about these guys are the crappy bars farther down Bourbon Street who are jealous of the crowds that these guys draw--crowds that tip the kids instead of buying over-priced drinks in the bars.
Musicians say that the ramped-up enforcement could eliminate a long-standing musical proving-ground for young musicians.

"They're killing a New Orleans tradition. I didn't know how to play the trumpet until I started playing right here on this corner," said trumpeter Sean Roberts.

Fortunately they aren't without their defenders. A Facebook page called "Don't Stop the Music. Let New Orleans Street Musician Play" is going viral, and they also have the support of Mary Howell, a civil rights attorney in New Orleans.
Howell has defended street musicians for 30 years, through four unconstitutional city ordinances and one unconstitutional state statute. She said she is pretty certain that she's right when she says that the Bourbon Street ordinance seems too broad, but she believes the issues there are resolvable.

"I hope we can find creative solutions to keep the music going there," she said.

But Howell reserves her strongest criticism for the citywide ordinance. "It's a bad law: it's unconstitutional and has been recognized as unconstitutional by everyone involved," she said.

Under this ordinance, Howell said, "it would be illegal to walk down the street singing or whistling for almost half the day. It would be illegal to sit by the lake and strum a guitar and sing to yourself."

The law is almost without limits: it doesn't restrict only performances, mention audiences, mention whether the music is done for money, say whether it has to bother anyone, or specify any decibel levels, she said. "It's a classic example of overbreadth," she said. "To enforce an ordinance like this is counterproductive and silly."
OK, now I'm really pissed because I have to side with a liberal civil-rights attorney and that just sucks ass on principle. But in this case, I'll deal with it because I want to see these guys left alone and allowed to play.

Again, people travel to New Orleans just for this sort of unique culture and free-wheeling laissez faire atmosphere, and stamping it out is going to kill off the French Quarter and hurt New Orleans as a whole. If the City Council doesn't wise up and back off, the people of the Crescent City need to slap them upside the head with calls, letters, protests and failing all else, replacement this coming election. At risk of sounding like some sort of hippie...Save the music and save the French Quarter!

Now Jackie, why don't you leave them boys alone and let them sing their songs?

And if you have never been there and want to know how these guys sound, here they are:


  1. I hear you.

    The French Quarter has a historical precedent for allowing these street performers and it adds to the atmosphere of the place and encourages tourism.

    Are they trying to make the place Disneyland (where the brass quartets are paid union musicians under contract to the city)?

  2. We can only hope that come the next hurricane, Dorothy's house will land on Jackie Clarkson.

  3. I knew one day you would find a civil rights lawyer you could like! Congrats!

    Whoever is backing this new "enforcement" in New Orleans, is truly messing up a great (but too hot and humid) city.

  4. I admit to hating that too, finding commonality with some otherwise worthless pinko; it happened again this last weekend, when I volunteered at an e-waste event, and found myself a star due to being licensed to run a forklift. One lady told me 'I should get a license to do that!' and I almost answered, but stopped myself, 'get one for a gun while you're at it'.