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Let’s Just Shut Frenchmen Street Down

Do you love music? Do you love Frenchmen Street?

Your days of enjoying this only-in-New Orleans phenomenon of a live music street may soon be coming to an end.

I wrote in my blog last week about the attempt by the city—which should be embracing Frenchmen Street as the current epicenter of local live music in New Orleans—to close down music on the street. A serious crackdown started last week with citations being issued for several clubs (including Maison, Mojito’s, BMC and Vaso) and a lawsuit being filed against the Balcony Music Club (BMC) by Dr. Travis Kenny, who rents the property at 510 Esplanade Avenue, which is just next door to BMC.

Both the pro-music and anti-noise groups are becoming more and more polarized on this issue. We assume that the anti-noise people are numbered among the anti-music people too, since—let’s face it—they target music as the main source of their complaints.

Let's get rid of those crowds, shall we?

Almost everything I’ve heard or read in local mainstream media has focused on the noise on Bourbon Street, which overall has escalated over the past few years. The fact of the matter is that most of the bars on Bourbon that offer music are in compliance with the current laws; there are two or three operators who flout the regulations, and who instigate noise “wars” on Bourbon: e.g., Club A has music at a reasonable level; Club B thinks that if its music is louder than Club A’s, more people will hear it and will go into their bar. So Club B cranks up the music. Club A then tries to outdo Club B, Club B reciprocates, and the music gets ear-splittingly loud. Then there are the issues with non-bar retailers who blast music from speakers into the street to try to attract customers. The music clubs have to compete against them as well. It makes for an ongoing loudness.

It’s really the worst during special events, particularly sporting events. Those crowds are notoriously loud, and everyone cranks up the music to be heard above the crowd noises.

I wonder why the city hasn’t required that duct tape on your mouth or muzzles be mandatory for people on Bourbon Street so they can keep the ambient crowd noise down. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s just as ridiculous to ask music clubs to keep from playing music at a level that can be heard by crowds outside their doors. This is the nature of a street that provides entertainment.

It’s a fact that music adds to the spirit and atmosphere of Bourbon. Can you imagine Bourbon Street with all the music kept behind closed doors at a level than can only be heard indoors? This isn’t feasible. It’s not what the city needs.

Ditto on Frenchmen Street.

Unfortunately, some years ago, Frenchmen Street was subjected to a “cultural district overlay” zoning ordinance which only allows certain activities on the street. There are only a few alcohol licensees who don’t serve food who are allowed to offer live amplified music. Otherwise, an establishment has to be considered a restaurant to offer live music, and music in restaurants cannot be amplified and is supposed to consist of no more than three musicians. Clearly, there are multiple problems with this ordinance in allowing music to flourish and grow the way it has on Frenchmen. Thus, it seems that most of the places who offer music may be doing so illegally. But, in rather typical New Orleans fashion, everyone has looked the other way, and the music scene has grown and flourished on Frenchmen, amplified music and all.

No more.

The very vocal and well-funded minority of serial complainants on loud music is seriously trying to shut down music on Frenchmen Street.

They contend that they’re not trying to stop the music, they only want the loud music to stop. I think they’re going after the wrong people. Why don’t they just find a way to get rid of the noisy crowds in the Quarter and on Frenchmen? That would be a first step. If there are no crowds, the music isn’t going to be as loud. This is a fact.

Again, this sounds totally ridiculous, and, of course, it is.

My contention is that this city—which is known worldwide for its musical culture—is shooting itself in the foot internationally by not embracing music, which admittedly, is occasionally louder than it should be. The lawsuits, the negative media on “noise” (read music), the bogus web sites (hearnolamusic.org, that asks you to sign a petition to control music) are led by a small group of people who say they just can’t tolerate the noise. The city and the mainstream media seem to have bought into this stupid, selfish crusade that’s attempting to turn New Orleans into Blandtown, primarily because the publicity campaign that’s behind it is well-funded and supported by the money of a local wealthy plaintiff attorney, Stuart Smith (Smith-Stag), who has been attempting to shut down music in the Quarter since he bought a residence there on St. Philip Street. He and his firm are now also focusing attacks on Frenchmen Street clubs.  All the negative publicity about noise in the Quarter, the web site previously mentioned, the lawsuits, and the most vocal groups about Quarter and Frenchmen Street noise are all being controlled by Mr. Smith. He even has one of his former employees involved in the noise issue in Councilman Gisleson-Palmer’s office. Talk about a puppet master!

Control the crowd noise, and you control the loudness. Allow the people who complain about the music to control our musical culture, and you kill it. If you can’t stand the noise in the Quarter or on Frenchmen Street, then you need to live elsewhere and quit your bitching. Put in place some noise ordinances that take the nature of this unique city into account (we aren’t a city that closes down at 1 a.m.) and don’t try to model our culture and business on another city. Give the police the ability to crack down and enforce noise laws with enforcement tactics that have teeth. If bars and music clubs are consistently creating noise issues, give them some options that will still allow them to continue in business (such as tax incentives for installing noise-proof barriers or insulation).

I have news for the people who complain about the music: without the Quarter businesses and the music clubs on Frenchmen Street, there would be no New Orleans as we know it. No visitors. No tax revenues to subsidize your ability to live in these unique neighborhoods. Keeping up this campaign against music and “noise” is a totally selfish, short-sighted, non-visionary crusade against the very fabric of what makes New Orleans’ entertainment districts unique and attractive to everyone. Just get over yourselves and stop the attack on music and on the people who make it possible.

I vote for the music, every time, hands-down, and so should you.